Monday, February 20, 2012

Tumblin' Dice rocks, rolls, and rules

A blurb for John McFetridge's new novel, Tumblin' Dice, invokes This is Spinal Tap and Elmore Leonard, but I'd add Return of the Secaucus 7 to the list of cultural referents.  Tumblin' Dice is even more about growing into middle age and facing change than it is about fast talking, violence, and life on the road, though it's about all those things, too.

And the change is nuanced;  there's no clear line between characters who accept and characters who reject it. Even the most decisive is plagued by occasional introspection, doubt, and reminiscence. Others act decisively (for good or ill) just when a reader is likely to write them off as hopelessly nostalgic or irredeemably stupid. That nuance makes this an unexpectedly moving book, as close a simulation of what I imagine real life is as I can remember in a crime novel.

Let's meet some of the characters:
  • There are The High, a 1980s rock band that reunites and hits the oldies-and-casino circuit, with larceny on its mind.
  • There are the Philadelphia mobsters.
  • There are the Saints of Hell, familiar to readers of McFetridge's previous books, bikers gone upscale and professionally stratified. The Saints challenge the Philadelphia mobsters for control of an Ontario casino, where The High are booked for a show (opening for Cheap Trick).
  • There are the cops from Toronto and elsewhere who try to contain the violence and who cope with a blood-chilling and culturally timely case of their own.
Each of those groups has its own drama and subplots, in addition to its role in the climax at the casino. That's a lot of characters and action for a medium-size crime novel, a lot of story lines interacting in any number of ways, expected and unexpected, kind of like life. But it's funny, it's moving, it works, and the worst thing I can say about McFetridge is that he appears to like Rush.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Labels: , , , ,

41 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I have Swap to read first, but I am so on this.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I'm just going to add this weird fact, which is that I couldn't decipher the word verifier word so just typed something and then didn't even bother with the second word and, well, as you see, I got in anyway.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Worked again.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, security breach in Sector 42.

You know that I read and liked Swap, Dirty Sweet, and Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. As good as they were, this is better. It's a crime story for grown-ups!

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Some of the characters from McFetridge's previous books appear in Tumblin' Dice, and they refer to events depicted in those books, but it's not necessary to read the books in order. Doing so does enhance that feeling of being in a "universe," though.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

When I read Dirty Sweet, I liked it, but didn't entirely get its vibe. When I read Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, it all clicked and I appreciated it thoroughly. I think it's only up from here!

And now off for more experimentation with the Captcha machine. Can I just type in the unambiguous 'pass' or will the blurry 'walshal' be required.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Apparently you need to do the blurry word. The other doesn't matter.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The blurry word matters. That's evocative at the least, if not downright emblematic of our time, which is not to say ominous.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I think everything comes together in this book: the personal, the social, the criminal. Maybe that's because rock and roll, such a powerful vehicle for nostalgia, eases the way for so many characters to look back at their own pasts, whether or nor said retrospection is directly connected to music. If I had the book in an electronic version, I'd search for the word "change" and see how how often it comes up. Far more that probability would indicate, I'd guess.

The book hangs together thematically because of this.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yeah I had to forgive him his Rush love just as I forgive Australians AC-DC.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I don't believe you about the forgiveness.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, your blurb invoked Rush. I like to think you meant it as a compliment.

You think Angus Young still fits into his old shorts?

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I forgive Adrian Thin Lizzy's version of "Whisky in the Jar."

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I believe you, Peter. Personally, I like all the versions of Whiskey in the Jar I have heard.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

Finished TUMBLIN DICE last night and agree with all the good stuff that was said above. The book reminds me a little of Richard Price. Not in the style of writing--John is far more freewheeling than Price--but in how the crime elements, while always there, seem to be part of the setting of the story and are not the primary focus of every scene.

Ed McBain came to do this more as he got deeper into the 87th Precinct novels. His books became less about police work and more about people who happened to be cops. Again, John's writing style is different, but TUMBLIN DICE isn't about criminals so much as it's about people who happen to be criminals. (Most of them, anyway.)

Did anyone else catch the ANIMAL HOUSE reference on Page 205?

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Really looking forward to reading this.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, Thin Lizzy's version isn't all that bad except for the god-awful haircuts in the video and its substituting of "Mollie" for "Jenny." And, outside of the song's cultural context (You know, it may have shaken up a stagnant Irish folk scene), it's musically unmemorable and unnecessary. Of course, just about any song Luke Kelly ever sang would have to be better than any other version of the same song.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, that's right. The novel has all kinds of wild crime elements -- the scheme to rob the casinos, Barry's plan to get the money back form Frank, the rivalry between the bikers and the Italian mob -- but you're right. This book is more about people who happen to be criminals and cops.

I did not get the "Animal House" reference in question.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sean, have you read McFetridge's other books?

I think you'll like this one. It will make you feel like a wild man and an adult at the same time.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I find Angus Young pretty disturbing to look at these days.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, the picture I conjure up -- a ravaged old man in a schoolboy cap and shorts -- is not pretty.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

Peter,
The cops are talking on page 205. One says, "It could take years for that to play out." Another says, "And cost millions of lives."

Line taken from the scene in ANIMAL HOUSE where the Deltas are about to get their revenge. (We could fight them with conventional weapons, but that would take years and cost millions of lives.)

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha! I knew that line was a bit of amusing hyperbole, but I didn't recognize the source -- and I have seen the movie.

Thanks.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Re: Conservative

Conservatives want to conserve, they believe checks and balances, in the separation of powers--because they know that power corrupts.

The current bunch that calls themselves conservatives wants a consolidation of power, super-monopolies too big to fail.

True conservatives would not only be against the government spending money on earmarks for corporate interests, they would be against spending money on costly wars.

True conservatives would be against us letting foreign nations control our ports. True conservatives would be against this globalization crap.

True conservatives would not only be in favor of local government, they would be in favor of local economics.

Want to see a true conservative? Look at Wendell Berry.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Wendell Berry is a great example, Richard. I love that guy.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Richard, your comment may have wandered over from another post, but it's welcome here. Wendell Berry sounds worth a read. How come he's not more of a public figure? Though form what you say, he wants to keep hos owl life local.

One of my v-words -- and I am not making this up -- is: united

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you didn't steer me wrong on Eric Hoffer. I'll look forward to Berry.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Sorry about the thread drift.

Wendell Berry turned down a lucrative position in an Ivy League college to come back to his native Kentucky and live the agrarian live.

His works have been critical of corporate America and the global economy and the destruction of the land. He writes brilliant novels and stories, brilliant essays, and simple poems.

Although a spiritual man, he has spoken out against the free-market commercialized religions of the day, and like Eric Hoffer, he joins no causes, runs for no office, resists attempts of others, no matter how well meaning, to niche him.

As a Kentuckian myself, I've been fortunate enough to meet him a couple of times. He is very soft spoken and humble in person, self-defacing and embarrassed by his celebrity which was never pursued. He used to turn down all attempts to get him to promote his own work. He became famous in spite of himself.

He has accepted appearances at the Kentucky Book Fair and a few other places, compelled to speak his mind against the war (which he has always opposed in his soft-spoken but logical essays). Like Eric Hoffer, he is philosophical rather than shrill, mildly socratic rather than sharply ranting.

He is more independent than others I read, more like Eric Hoffer than Chris Hedges, Lewis Lapham, or many others that I also read. He is a writer's writer.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So he is committed to agrarian life. He's no mere gentleman farmer?

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

By God, and is it odd that we are engaging in such a discussion via computer?

February 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

No, he's far from a gentleman farmer. I actually never really thought of him as a conservative before, because he is so revered in Californian eco farming movements. I think I started with Unsettling America, but I've read quite a bit of him, though it's been many years.

It's nice to know that Richard has met him.

February 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I like Unsettling America as a title.

February 22, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

It's funny, because though I have mostly read his nonfiction essay collections, there are people who love him for his fiction and those who are into his poetry as well.

February 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Given the avenue by which I've approached Berry, I'd probably want to read some of his essays first.

February 22, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

That would be the way I'd go, Peter.

February 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A guy like that, I'd want to find out what he thinks, what he has to say about this country, whether he thinks of himself as conservative, and so on.

February 22, 2012  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

John is such a Sayles fan, I am not surprised. What a great writer.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patti, have you read Tumblin' Dice? As much as I liked the previous Toronto books, this one is a great leap forward. I could write more about any number of the book's features, and I may do so.

I was originally going to cite The Big Chill. Then I remembered that Secaucus 7 came first. And then I remembered what a Sayles fan John is.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Tumblin(g) Dice' is a great Stones single from a great Stones album and I'm sure I've seen other novels, whether crime or otherwise, use pop/rock songs/albums for their titles, but has anybody ever heard of a crime novel that used the title of a seriously unhip song/band name for their title.

For example, 'Save All Your Kisses For Me', or 'Paper Lace'
Or would that be like commercial suicide?

March 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If anyone writes a hard-boiled novel called Billy, Don't Be a Hero, I'll be inclined not to read it.

March 17, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

....yeah, I'd remembered your disdain for 'The Night Chicago Died'! :)

March 17, 2012  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home