Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Oxford American Article

Barry Hannah has an article in the latest issue of the Oxford American about crime noir. He tips the hat to Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford, but the essay never really goes anywhere. It starts off with Hannah complaining about real estate development in Oxford, Mississippi, and then goes on to Faulkner, Celine, Bukowski and Camus. (Not in that order.)
I wish he had had some kind of thesis, or expanded on some of the comments he made, particularly about Willeford, whose novels, "carry authentic wit down to psychological strangeness such as [Hannah has] never quite read, even in Kafka."
There's a lot to be said about Willeford, who wrote some damn strange novels, including The Shark Infested Custard, Cockfighter and The Black Mass of Brother Springer. Black Mass, in particular, must be read to be believed. I think it's Willeford's great philosphical novel. It may be the single most cynical book I've ever read. The protagonist, a failed novelist, leaves his wife in Ohio, gets ordained into a dying church by an unbelieving priest, takes over a black chuch in Jacksonville, Florida, organizes and leads a successful bus boycott, stands up to the Klan, beds a parishoners wife, steals all the money sent in to support the boycott, and runs off with the aformentioned wife to New York, where he abandons her. He learns nothing. It makes not crying at your mother's funeral and shooting an Arab on the beach seem completely reasonable.

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