Monday, 9 January 2012

One Man's Opinion: HOODTOWN by CHRISTA FAUST


In her novella ‘Hoodtown’, Christa Faust has attempted something extra-ordinary.  She’s created a world and a micro-culture that are similar enough to our everyday lives to be recognisable, yet different enough to keep a reader on their toes from start to finish.


Hoodtown is the broken down sleazy ghetto where the hoods hang out.


The hoods are a group of people brought together by religion, slang, wrestling and culture in a way that means they have to keep their faces covered at all times. They have hoods for babies, for sleeping and for wrestling in. There are special arrangements for shaving and facials. Their whole way of life is impeded upon by these hoods, not least in the way they are looked down upon by the majority ‘Skins’ who wear no hoods and pull the strings in society.


The story is told by X. She’s an ex all-right – an ex-wrestler, ex-beauty and the ex of one Jaguar de Juarez who is a wrestling legend.


When we meet her she’s well past her heyday in wrestling terms, drummed out of the federation after ‘the incident’ with Blue Velvet.


She’s a tough lady and a hell of a character. She also exposes herself in ways that many first-person narrators don’t achieve.


Unfortunately for X, she happens upon the body of a murdered hood. It’s something that haunts her given the nature of the killing; the victim’s hood has been removed and an act of sacrilege has been committed.


The murder turns out to be one of a series and X is driven to find out what’s going on.


The plot broadens as the involvement of big fish from Skin and Hood ponds react to her enquiries and the only allies she has are the men in her life and a sympathetic Skin cop (who is the exception rather than the rule).


Her life moves at a pace, shifting from one lead to another until the satisfying and totally unexpected identification of the killer.


Overall, the work is written really well. Faust has turns of phrase that show a great creativity in her use of language and an unusual perspective on everyday happenings. There are regular nuggets of delight to be savoured.


The hard-boiled package works really well and she carries off the creation of the Hood culture with apparent ease.


A couple of things slowed things down for me, however, making this a four star review than a five. I’d also like to point out that these points probably say more about me as a reader than about the author.


I was fascinated by the Hood concept. Tried to work out what a face would look like after so many years under-cover, or thinking about how the baby hoods worked and sleeping and love-making etc and I found myself drifting away from the plot. I was also bogged down with attempting to fathom the whole concept (yep, probably trying to see things that weren’t even there). It doesn’t seem to make any fresh statements about prejudice, but it’s a constant reminder of the need to respect-people for who they are. It had me thinking of Burkas and the issues for wearers and non-wearers within western communities. Ghettos and exclusion and riots and poverty were frequently in my thoughts. I guess from that point of view it should be seen as a thought-provoking book that should be read, but I’m not sure.


The other issue for me was my capacity to hold the threads together. Each scene leads to the next with a fairly high speed of turnover and big changes coming fairly quickly. Throw in the unusual names and the number of characters and I found myself having to work pretty hard to stay with the programme – like I said, this is likely my issue as working-memory isn’t one of my strengths.


These points were minor in the scheme of things. Amidst the colourful language, the raw setting and within the violent scenes of a crazy, Hood wrestler on the rampage they pale into the background.


Very entertaining overall. A perfect book for groups and group discussions. I’d quite like to do some discussing myself, see the parts I missed and find out what others took from the setup so I can read it again from a better-informed position.


Please go and try it - I’d love to see your reviews and interpretations.

For those who love the book, and there will be many, you have the luxury of a wonderfully illustrated copy as an extra option (I'm half-tempted, I must say).  It looks like the kind of thing you'd pull down from the shelves when you really wanted to impress.  You'll find that here.

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