Saturday, January 8, 2011

Let's Read Grimhaven!

I've had a copy of Charles Willeford's unpublished novel Grimhaven for a while now, but I just got around to reading it recently. It is, without a doubt, one of the biggest Fuck You's that anyone has ever committed to print. It's easy to see why it never made it into proper circulation, and that is a shame. Aside from The Burnt Orange Heresy, it's probably Willeford's most harrowing work, and it has what can only be described as the most twisted happy endings in the history of literature.

Grimhaven isn't really a crime novel in the traditional sense. It bears no similarity to Miami Blues or any of the other subsequent Hoke Mosely novels where broken down old Hoke continues to be an unorthodox, false teeth wearing hero with a badge. It has more in similar with Camus' The Stranger than it does with any contemporary crime novels. That's really not a surprise, as Willeford is nothing if not the rarest of creatures: An American existentialist. Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, the smiling, reassuring God everyone is so sure has some sort of grand plan, despite the fact that there is no evidence for this ridiculous assertion.

Grimhaven finds Hoke living a simple life. He has retired from the police force, works at his father's hardware store and spends his spare time swimming and working on chess problems. He is content until his ex-wife sends his two teenage daughters to live with him while she lives it up with a black baseball player in LA. The story is really about the lengths a man will go to get back what he has lost, and Hoke is willing to go a long, long way. He doesn't want his wife back. He doesn't want his job back. He just wants to go on living as he was, alone and with time to spend working on his chess puzzles without being bothered. The way he sets about doing this is harrowing and, well, grim, but it's also brilliant. I'm reluctant to say anymore because I don't want to give away the ending to a book that many people haven't read, but let's just say the ending made me laugh even though there's nothing funny about it. Hoke, the perpetual loser, turns out to be the winner after all, even though he's the only one who will ever know.


Dave Zeltserman said...

Nathan, I love this book. Easily the grimmest crime novel I've come across. I look at it more as fitting with a longstanding Willeford theme--namely the lengths a true artist will go to to remain true to his art, as well as the unwillingness of a true artist to compromise (and the disastrous effects this causes). Cockfighter & The Woman Chaser were both driven by these themes, and Grimhaven also (Hoke's artistic vision is the Spartan lifestyle he's chosen for himself).

Anyway, a great book. In my opinion, Willeford's best. And it probably would've killed his career if it had gotten published.

Ricky Sprague said...

Oh, how I wish I could read this myself. Perhaps we could get a petition going to inspire some enterprising publisher to bring it out? If The Shark-Infested Custard can get a mass market paperback edition, why not Grimhaven?

Anonymous said...

If you're interested in Grimhaven, you might also be interested in Fairhaven which I initially planned as a tribute to Charles...Hoke Mosely #5...but Betsy came unglued at the idea. So, I moved the story to the Pacific Northwest and invented a burned-out cop named Jake Mosby. This book will be released on October 4, 2011
For review purposes, it can be read for free here: