Sunday 27 July 2014

One Man's Opinion: CALIFORNIA by RAY BANKS

‘I’m a man with a goal, and I will reach that goal no matter what.’

Shug has learned well. His years with a Jarvis-Cocker-lookalike therapist during his stay in Saughton Prison have given him something to aim for. A goal. California.

He’s virtually a reformed character now he’s been released. We learn that early doors as he treats the old man whose car he’s hijacked calmly and without resorting immediately to violence. The car he’s nicking is going to take him home, back to his ex-girlfriend’s Falkirk home where his stash is hidden and into the territory of the two men with whom he robbed a post office and weren’t caught  – these are two men who Shug would like to have a word with, a quiet and rational word if they’re up for it.  

California’ is a thing of beauty. A real pocket rocket. The story has energy from the off, driven by the sense of purpose in the main character. Shug’s history comes to light as events move the plot forwards and this keeps the momentum up all the way through. What I feel is particularly special is the way Shug is painted so sympathetically, in spite of his volatile emotions and unpleasant past. When he reaches the points when he has to make decisions that are make-or-break (will there be serious consequences or damage limitation?) the emotional pull is huge. If you’re like me, you’ll be screaming internally and at different points, ‘DO IT’ and ‘DON’T DO IT’ in the hope that Shug’s able to get the message somehow.

I loved it and think it’s likely that you will too.

A flawless gem.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Dancing With Myself: WILLIAM BOYLE interviews WILLIAM BOYLE

This one, I want to introduce.

I've read a number of great books in 2014. Some real belters. Even so, there's one that stands out clearly as my favourite and that's GRAVESEND by William Boyle who's about to interview himself here. The novel has an immense power that I'd urge you to experience. The prose is special, the characters wildly alive and their circumstances tragic. It's full of surprises and the kind of romance that Tom Waites can create when he sings about the broken.

I'd like to thank William for doing me the honour of appearing here and also thank my friend Rory Costello for sharing his knowledge and recommending the book in the first place.

Here goes. Kings William the Sixth and Seventh:

Just don’t tell me about Brooklyn, okay? I don’t give a shit about Brooklyn. Everyone’s from goddamn Brooklyn. Don’t start this thing that way.
I won’t talk about it.

Don’t tell me about the south either. I don’t give a shit how the fuck you wound up in Oxford.
Okay, man.
How’d you get into crime fiction?
Stephen Frears’ version of The Grifters came out when I was in the sixth grade. I saw it and loved it and asked for the book for my birthday. My mother bought it for me because she never said no to a book. I remember riding in the car to Florida with her and my stepdad and reading the novelization of The Last Boy Scout I’d picked up somewhere along the way – I loved Shane Black and I hadn’t seen the movie yet, I had to wait for it to come out on video. I also found Elmore Leonard in the library around then – I was obsessed with Reservoir Dogs and Tarantino kept talking about what a huge influence Leonard was, so I read Killshot and a few others. And then I picked up The Black Dahlia in a bookstore one day in eighth grade. I hadn’t heard anything about Ellroy – it just looked good to me. By high school, I was into Cain and Chandler and I was watching movies like Detour.   
What’s your first memory?
I had a 106 fever and I was in a tub in the Victory Memorial Hospital ER. I guess I was three. My father was standing in the doorway. He’d come over from Staten Island. He was wearing a cap and his softball jacket. I was burning up. I didn’t know what death was so I wasn’t afraid. 
What was on your walls when you were a kid?
A poster of Alyssa Milano in a Devils jersey and framed Lenny Dykstra baseball cards. Later, a picture of Cagney in Public Enemy and a True Romance poster.
What movie have you watched the most in your life?
Tie. Pump Up the Volume came out when I was sixth grade. I rented it from my local video store the next year and dubbed it using my mother’s VCR and my grandmother’s VCR – I watched that movie probably four or five times a week for the next few years. I was in love with Samantha Mathis as Nora Diniro. When True Romance came out, I did the same thing. And then late in high school it was Leaving Las Vegas. Well, I guess Leaving Las Vegas doesn’t count because I always skipped the rape part and I usually didn’t watch the end. I just liked it when he got to Las Vegas and they were drinking all the time and kind of falling in love. What a goddamn dream!  
What are your favorite things right now?
Louie. The recent two-part episode, “In the Woods,” is the best TV I’ve ever seen. Megan Abbott’s The Fever. Willy Vlautin’s The Free and Colfax by his new band The Delines. Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There. I just reread Jim Harrison’s Farmer – man, what a book. Dave Newman’s Two Small Birds. Michael Haneke’s Amour. Mad Men. The Rock*A*Teens. That Harry Dean Stanton documentary. Ace Atkins’s Quinn Colson books. Adventure Time and every word that Jack Pendarvis writes. This song about my hero Jason Molina by Strand of Oaks. These photos by Arthur Tress of children’s dreams. John Brandon’s Further Joy. Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More.   
You like a lot of stuff. What are some things that you hate?
I hate thinking that my grandparents won’t be around one day. I hate bad pizza. I hate going to the beach in the summer. I hate mopping. I don’t hate birds but I’m pretty scared of them – I think they can take over whenever they want.     
What’s the drunkest you’ve ever been?
It involved MD 20/20 and an axe. I was on a ladder in the middle of a strange street. The night smelled like puke. The moon had disappeared.  
Where did GRAVESEND come from?
It was born in blood and brokenness. It came screaming from me like a punk song.
Do you ever think about how you’d like to die?
When my wife and I are ninety, I’d like for us to leave a note for our children and drive somewhere very cold where we can freeze together hugging under a tree. I’d like to listen to a good song while I’m freezing to death, something by Shane MacGowan. I’d like to stay frozen until the world explodes.