Friday, September 25, 2009

Lawrence Block Can Do No Wrong

I celebrated my 34th birthday last month and as a present to myself picked up a book called One Night Stands and Lost Weekends, a collection of Lawrence Block’s early short stories (in the One Night Stands section) and three novellas about private eye Ed London (in the Lost Weekends section). Block is one of my favorites and never ceases to amaze me. His writing is crisp and economical and free of clutter. As I writer I look at his pages and want to frame them--This is how you do it, I tell myself.

In his introduction to the book, Block has very few kind words to say about his younger days (does anybody?), but he’s selling himself short. In the first few stories, obviously you can see where he was learning and refining his craft, and certainly making the usual learning-writer mistakes that he eliminated in later years, but, wow, he was good even when learning.

Everything he writes sucks you in like a hurricane. He wrote a book called Such Men Are Dangerous and I read that in ONE DAY. These stories have the same hypnotic appeal.

I don’t want to go too much into the stories because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you haven’t taken the time to pick up the collection it’s really worth your attention, and I’m glad it’s available (and some of his earlier novels, too) because his work in recent years hasn’t really fired me up. Not that the books aren’t good, but he’s continued with the Matt Scudder series even though I think he was done with the character at the end of Eight Million Ways to Die. The ending of that book brought tears to my eyes, and has been only the second book, this far in my lifetime, to do so (the other was Charlie Mike by Leonard B. Scott, a novel about the Vietnam War, which stunned me). What’s even funnier is I remember where I was and what I was doing when I read that ending. I had been working the overnight shift at a radio station at the time, and was able to read a lot while waiting to go on with hourly news updates, and had to wipe away those tears and compose myself before I opened the microphone! I gave two or three of the post-Million Scudder books a chance, but they lacked the punch. It was too hard an act to follow even for Block; however, if you hadn’t read Million and started with those particular books, you’d be greatly entertained.

Despite Block’s self-critical analysis of his early work, it’s awesome that he’s released the old material. Of course, digging into these short stories makes me want to re-read Eight Million Ways to Die; however, I should probably re-read the four Matt Scudder books leading up to Million. That would be a killer way to enter the upcoming winter season.

No comments:

Post a Comment