Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Block on Westlake and his (non) jokes (or, the comedy is finished)

Lawrence Block remembers his friend
Donald Weslake during a celebration
at Mysterious Bookshop. Photo by Peter
Rozovsky, your humble blog keeper.
In addition to enjoying Donald Westlake's novels, I always found his remarks on movies, popular culture, and other subjects stimulating. So I was pleased when I learned that the University of Chicago Press, the same folks who are rereleasing all the Parker novels Westlake wrote as Richard Stark, has put together a collection of Westlake's nonfiction.

Now I'm pleased to find that some key people behind the book, titles The Getaway Car, think similarly about what made Westlake so good. "Don didn't write jokes," his longtime friend Lawrence Block said Monday at a celebration of the book. "He found amusing ways to say things."  Levi Stahl, the volume's editor, emphasized the point with a little game in which he had members of the audience read the opening lines of several of the Parker novels (and one featuring Alan Grofield).

Here are a few I liked and remembered fondly:
"When the guy with asthma finally came in from the fire escape Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away."
and
"When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed."
and
"Grofield opened his right eye, and there was a girl climbing in the window. He closed that eye, opened the left, and she was still there."
Do you see the fun Westlake has with a common speech pattern in that last example?  Lawrence Block was right. Westlake didn't just say funny things, he said things funny.

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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12 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

My copy of THE GETAWAY CAR arrived last week. I'm looking forward to it almost like a vacation, savoring the bit of delayed gratification caused by continuing to read what I'd intended before it arrived.

September 30, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Block told some good Westlake stories, the common theme of which was the Westlake was funny in real life as well as in print. I hope some of those stories made their way into the book. His comments about other writers are interesting, too. He is not afraid to highlight weak points in the work of an author whose work he admires. He was. as The Getaway Car's editor said, a good critic.

September 30, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

That's a terrific picture of Block. Ever think that maybe you missed your calling?

September 30, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. And a person can have more than one calling, can't he? Sometimes it takes a while for the calls of get through.

September 30, 2014  
Blogger seana graham said...

Yes. True on both counts.

September 30, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm pleased you noticed, though. I have been paying more attention to photography in recent months.

September 30, 2014  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

I love the way photos capture a moment in time. At that moment, Mr. Block had to be channeling Bernie Rhodenbarr.

October 01, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, likelier that than matt Scudder feeling the need to find an AA meeting

October 01, 2014  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

I got The Getaway Car a few days ago and read it almost immediately. There are several (a dozen, maybe) thumbnails of other mystery writers he appreciated and some he did not.

October 27, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Westlake could have made a name for himself as a critic and reviewer had he chosen to do so.

October 27, 2014  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

When would he have found time? :)

October 27, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suspect it may be also that no one would have taken crime fiction seriously enough to give him the gig.

October 27, 2014  

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