Sunday, 6 June 2010

Scar Lover by Harry Crews

....................One Man's Opinion...................
I was following a strand of recommendations on Twitter recently and placed a number of orders on the strength of them. Word on the Tweet was that Harry Crews is someone not to be missed and, up until recently, I'd missed him to the point of not recognising the name.

To redress the balance, I went looking for his stuff on the web and found that he's got a huge number of titles under his belt. It was looking good - if it came off, there would be enough material to keep me busy for months.

A couple of his books recently dropped through the letter box and I decided to start with Scar Lover.

It's a title that whets the appetite and I was pretty excited about what I was about to discover.
So what did I find?
The main character is Pete. He's had a hard life, what with vegetablising his brother in an accident with a hammer and killing his parents in a car accident. He carries his guilt around like it's a rucksack full of bricks. He's also carrying round a whole heap of anger. Life experience has turned him into a rebellious, short-tempered man who has a contradictory need to give time to those whose lives take place under shrouds of darkness. I guess that makes him either a good bad guy or a good bad guy.

Either way, we meet him as he's passing a hauntingly beautiful girl (Sarah) on his way to work. They get into conversation. Her mother has cancer, has lost her breasts to tumours, and news of this makes Pete want to stay and help and to run in equal measure. In the end, he's cornered by a dinner invitation that he just can't refuse.

His colleague, a Rasta named George, talks to him in riddles. In the baking heat, it would be enough to drive anyone crazy. George knows all about Pete because of Mr Winekoff who stays in the same boarding house as Pete and was witness to a drunken outpouring one evening where Pete spilled his guts. Mr Winekoff is an octogenarian health freak with a loose tongue - his long walks take him around the neighbourhood and into contact with everyone we're about to meet.

Pissed with Winekoff he throws him down the stairs and into an alligator pit, then later seeks him out for his help.

As time moves on Pete is irresistibly drawn from one nightmare situation to another and into living with Sarah and her family. When her father dies, the plot thickens and the relationships tangle further.

The book doesn't work for me. In spite of enjoying some of the set pieces and the way Pete is sucked into places he'd rather avoid like water emptying from a bath, it never really got going. It might be that I've become too familiar with taught, lean texts over the past few months, reading nothing but crime and little that didn't have a powerful momentum. With Scar Lover, I felt I spent a lot of time running on the spot.

The set pieces might work, but many of the points are laboured. Back story is repeated a few too many times for my liking (I prefer one reference to an incident), though this may be style chosen by Crews to show Pete's compulsion to look into the darkness.

George, our Rasta, speaks in a Jamaican patois which I found really tough to enjoy. It's an accent I love to hear, but to see it written out on the page isn't something I found at all pleasing.

The characters are also very extreme, physically and in terms of their thoughts and actions. Caricatures might be a better word for them. I like a little more subtlety than this, a little more for me to get my teeth into, something where I have to do a bit of the work myself.

I also felt there was a whiff of pretension following me around as I read it. I wonder if there was something I was supposed to be learning about the world as I was turning the pages. Mr Cruise might be hinting that he is saying something important; either I'm too stupid to get it or the emperor is still wearing bugger all no matter which angle you look from .

There were things to like about Scar Lover, but not really enough of them.

Given the number of recommendations I've seen and the great reviews that are around and about, I wouldn't want to put you off entirely. This is, after all, just one man's opinion.
I'll put my other purchase away for a while. Come back to it afresh. See if Mr Crews can win me over with other work. Maybe I'll take it all back one day in the future, eat some humble pie, who knows.
Judging by the photos I've seen, I wouldn't want to piss Harry off too much - I reckon he could take me with one hand tied behind his back even though he's in his seventies .

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