Friday, June 12, 2009

Review of Hogdoggin'


Anthony Neil Smith’s last book, Yellow Medicine, never quite came together, with its mix of half-assed terrorists who, for some godforsaken reason, wanted to control the meth trade in middle-of-nowhere Minnesota, rockabilly music, and bad cop and southern transplant Billy LaFitte, it seemed like Smith had thrown a bunch of disparate ingredients in a blender, hit puree and ended up with a bit of a mess. His latest novel, Hogdoggin’ (Bleak House, 2009) brings back many of the characters from Yellow Medicine,but improves upon the first novel in every respect.

Hogdoggin'
is the novel Yellow Medicine could have been if Smith hadn't decided to go with terrorists over bikers. Hogdoggin' finds LaFitte acting as sergeant-at-arms for a biker gang run by a man named Steel God. He's trying to stay of the radar, but FBI agent Franklin Rome, humiliated by the beating LaFitte handed out at the end of Yellow Medicine, is putting the squeeze on LaFitte's mentally unstable wife in an effort to flush him out of hiding. Rome's actions work, to an extent, and LaFitte takes off on a turquioise chopper to ride to the rescue of a woman who wants nothing to do with him. While Yellow Medicine was told in first person from LaFitte's point-of-view, Smith decided to go with third person for Hogdoggin', which gives him the opportunity to get inside the head of Rome, as well as LaFitte and other characters. The choice works well, and the characters are more fully realized than they seemed in Yellow Medicine. It's nice to see what makes these characters tick, even if they all are, on some level, monsters. Smith writes monsters pretty well.

The Billy LaFitte saga shares a lot in common with Charlie Huston's Hank Thompson novels, where a garden variety loser gradually turns into a dangerous man, except LaFitte is a dangerous man who is becoming more dangerous, and it's harder to feel sympathy for him than it is for Thompson, although it is possible to feel some empathy for poor Billy because every time he tries to be nice, at least in relative terms, it tends to blow up in his face. The only time things ever seem to go his way is when he gets really nasty. Of course, seeing bad people do nasty things to each other is part of the fun, even if you can't quite bring yourself to pull for any of them.



2 comments:

Keith Rawson said...

Nate,

I'm going to have to disagree with you about Yellow Medicine. I thought the use of terrorists as hard-boiled villains was an innovative tip of the hat to current world events and allowed Smith to turn Rome into a truly sinister antagonist.
I will agree with you about Hogdoggin'. The novel is a huge leap forward for Smith and I can only hope he continues on with Lafitte

Gerard Saylor said...

My disagreement is thus: Hank Thompson was a victim of happenstance with no chance but to become cruel to survive. Lafitte was already sleazy and bullying. My example is Lafitte's habit of coercing co-eds into cock coddling.

To me Thompson was always seemed to be just on the other side a bright and sunny life. Lafitte's world just seems to be a grey all day and bloody all night with no chance of escape.