A Shaw-King development: Two authors join my list of year's favorites
I've just finished reading Johnny Shaw's Big Maria, and I admit I teared up a bit at Shaw's resolution of his three screw-up protagonists' fates. The old-fashioned virtues of faith, determination, loyalty, and staying true to one's friends, family, and self are much manipulated and abused by governments, corporations, the media, and a thousand people we all meet every day to the point that's easy to mock them or to grow cynical. But irony is easy. Shaw gets a reader believing in this stuff even as the reader laughs.
Furthermore, I suspect Shaw does this deliberately. Here's a bit from near the book's end, XXX substituted for a character's name to avoid a spoiler:
"The same pit that (XXX) had imagined as his grave had become just that. Some might have found it funny, but the irony would have pissed (XXX) off. Irony is only amusing when it happens to someone else. Death isn't funny to the dead."I'm not entirely sentimental about this book, though. Among the many things to like are Shaw's subordination. His supporting characters are just as memorable and wacky as its three protagonists, but Shaw knows when to pull them back and let the main characters take center stage. He brings those subsidiary characters part way toward resolving obstacles he had put in their way, but he avoids the monotony-inducing trap of resolving their problems as thoroughly as he does the main characters'. Shaw has chops, and he also knows how to build a story.
I like Dana King's Grind Joint for its local color; its humor; its lack of sentimentality about its decaying urban setting; its ending that comes out of nowhere, but in a good way; and its tribute to a late star of King's beloved Pittsburgh Pirates.
A teenager who figures peripherally in the story is given the name Wilver, and if that's not a tribute to Wilver Dornell "Willie" Stargell, I'll eat your silly vintage-style 1979 Pirates baseball hat.
The novel's ending is harder to discuss because I don't want to spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that I did not see it coming, that it hits with a melancholy punch, that I'd have said, "Wow!" had anyone been around to hear me say it, and that it made perfect sense.
© Peter Rozovsky 2014