Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Charlie Stella: Good guys, bad guys, and bus drivers

I'm back on my Charlie Stella kick, this time with Cheapskates, after having read Eddie's World, Jimmy Bench-Press and Charlie Opera what seems like ages ago but was really only last month. A few quick thoughts before I hop a bus home:

Stella's protagonists are men on the fringe of mob life, but they really are good guys.  They're generally not killers, they're not especially vicious, and they have a touchingly old-fashioned yearning to do the right thing.

This is especially true of Reese Waters in Cheapskates, a convict who served time for stealing a car and who deeply wants to see that his cellmate is done right by. There's something to be said about a story with a good, old-fashioned good guy even if the good guy is a bad guy.

(Cheapskates is the fourth of Stella's novels, and Reese's mix of goodness and naivete reminds me of the title character in Charlie Opera, Stella's third book. So maybe the good-guy bad guy thing is characteristic of mid-period Stella.

(OK, enough with the theories. Back to the books.)

More to come, perhaps, on dialogue, humor, and violence, and how they can co-exist happily.
***
I hopped that bus home, took my seat, opened Cheapskates, and read:
“`There’s a brother with us upstate now was driving a bus,’ Mufasa said. `Killed his old lady when he found her cheating.’

“`Some handle it the wrong way, that kind of thing.’

"Mufasa sipped his coffee. `He used to tell us how people sometimes spit at him when he was driving.`”

“`Sometimes they do. That’s when the job becomes a test. Cops can find a reason to smack a guy spits at them. Bus drivers don’t have the same option.’”

I have never seen anyone spit at a bus driver, but I have seen drivers given the kind of crap no one should have to put up with. Next time I chat with one of these drivers, I'm recommending Charlie Stella.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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15 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

I read EDDIE'S WORLD last week, and was impressed with the influence of George V. Higgins on the writing. Not a rip-off, but Higgins seeps between the lines throughout.

SHAKEDOWN and JOHNNY PORNO are also very good.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger -RWWGreene said...

Charlie is a class act with a deceptively natural voice. That kind of casual grace doesn't come easy; he works it. He's a good guy and a good read.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger Michelle said...

Charlie Stella is one of my very favorite writers. "Eddie's World" will always be my favorite. I have read every one of Stella's books and never been disappointed. The fast-paced dialogue keeps you sitting on the edge of your seat. But the "reach out and touch" characters are what have me wanting more. Nobody does Wiseguys like Charlie. I recommend "Mafiya" to anyone who wants a taste of the Russian Mob. Believe me, the Russian Mob is heartless and Charlie does not paint a romantic picture of their lifestyle.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

RWW:

I looked at the dialogue tips on your blog. If you recognize that “1. Dialog needs to sound like real people said it, but not exactly. It’s more like shorthand for speech; every word must count for something,” you’re likely to enjoy reading Charlie Stella. He posted a couple of comments here when I wrote about him in November, and he seemed like the kind of guy who likes telling stories.

In re your other blog, I once worked for UPS in Chelmsford.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, everyone thinks of Higgins and Elmore Leonard when they read Charlie Stella.

The thing is (or, as Stella would simplify matters if he were writing this dialogue), Thing is, I committed the heresy a few years back of suggesting that some of the technique in "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" had not dated well. One commenter recommended some of Higgins' other novels. I may well read then one day.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michelle, I’m on my way to becoming a Charlie Stella completist, too, and for the same reasons that you’re one. My favorite Stella character to date is probably Charlie Opera, just because of his furtive singing after his wife throws a hairbrush at him.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michelle, if you like Charlie Stella, you might also like John McFetridge. His books share some features with Stella's: the deadpan, dialogue-based humor, and a group cast, with alternating crooks' and cops' points of view.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

For all the tough-talking wiseguys there's a real tenderness in Charlie's writing. He can take a story about a low level mobster collecting the money for underground screenings of "Deep Throat" and slip in a beautiful, awkward romance perfectly.

Great stuff.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That would be "Johnny Porno," I take it. I haven't read that yet, but Stella is terrific at awkward, heartwarming romances and creating crooks one can root for and all without creating moral or ethical problems for readers who might ordinarily feel squeamish about being expected to root for a crook.

December 20, 2011  
Blogger Charlieopera said...

All yous people are way too kind.

I thank you very, very much. Have a great holiday season, all a'yous!

I'd say Go Bills, but I suspect John and I have had enough of the Ills (no typo) for this season.

December 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd say Go, Eagles, but 8-8 is an uninspiring goal.

I talked up Cheapskates to a bus driver last night who said yes, she had been spit at. That's right, she.

December 21, 2011  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

This sounds like my kinda thing.

December 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, it's enjoyable reading, that's for sure, writing with heart. Aa to the occasional mix of humor and violence, well, if you like those disturbing nursery rhymes you wrote about at your place ...

December 21, 2011  
Blogger Charlieopera said...

Insignificant secret: The line came from a line I heard in my head describing some people I used to know. For some reason, the voice I heard was African American. "They nothing but cheapskates."

Some of what the father did (clipping Sweet-N-Lows, eating damaged Entenmann's cake, etc.) ... that was for real.

There's some other stuff that was for real, but none of the violence.

In my dreams (and while I wrote it), Morgan Freeman plays the bus driver always at the "farm" for drinking; Reese's friend.

Also in my dreams, Norwood's kick is good ...

December 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Barretts are the cheapest fictional family I know. Entenmann's is good stuff, though.

December 21, 2011  

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