How William McIlvanney beats the stereotypes
Here's how an outline of Laidlaw might begin:
First chapter: Narrated from killer’s point of view as he flees murder scene.Forget, for a moment, that those tropes may not have been so tired back in 1977. The question on the floor is why McIlvanney's versions seem so fresh now that Canongate books has rereleased Laidlaw in 2013 (along with its follow-ups, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties), other than that McIlvanney avoids the deadly trap of setting the inside-the-killer's-head chapter in italic type.
Second chapter: Crusty police officer sits at his desk, feeling bleak.
Third chapter: Father of missing girl feels frustrated and powerless.
Start with compassion and humor. End with such telling detail that one feels one is reading novel observation rather that obligatory place-holders. Here's how the novel opens:
"Running was a strange thing. The sound was your feet slapping the pavement. The lights of passing cars batted your eyeballs. ..."Find me a better description of alienation than that, of feeling inside one's body and removed from it at the same time. If you do, I bet it won't end on McIlvanney's humorous note:
"A voice with a cap on said. `Where's the fire, son?'"Yes, quibblers, a voice with a cap on, a convincing subjective description of how the world might appear to a panicked young man fleeing through a crowded city's streets. Subjectivity here translates into empathy, which, in turn makes itself felt in McIlvanney's compassion for his characters, even the most unpleasant. That compassion, perhaps even more than his depictions of hard city (Glasgow), marks out his affinity with Goodis, Guthrie, and other great names in noir.
Then there's McIlvanney understated humor, of which the following bit about a clownish drunk is just one of my favorites (and it gives a nice picture of McIlvanney's Glasgow at the same time):
"He was circulating haphazardly. trying different tables. In Hollywood films it's gypsy fiddlers. In Glasgow pubs it isn't. With that instinct for catastrophe some drunk men have, he settled for a table where three men were sitting. Two of them, Bud Lawson and Airchie Stanley, looked like trouble. The third one looked like much worse trouble."
© Peter Rozovsky 2013