Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dana King's Grind Joint again

Dana King
I won a pile of books at Sunday's Noir at the Bar in Baltimore that included Dana King's Grind Joint, which I am happy to report is just as good the second time around. So here's some of what I wrote about it the first time.  Here's Dana telling Patti Abbott the highly personal story of how he came to write the novel. Finally, here are all my posts about King (click on the link, then scroll down), whom I have known since he was still cutting his authorial teeth at Bouchercon 2008 in Baltimore.
 ======================
  I like 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. Stargell was a slugger who did not win most valuable player awards he arguably deserved in 1971 and 1973, and did win one he decidedly did not deserve in '79, when he became a much beloved leader of the World Series-winning "We Are Family" Pirates.

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.

The lack of sentimentality:
"Doc was tired of hearing how many things couldn't be prevented, or even punished. ... He'd made peace with the idea that he was becoming less a cop than an urban hospice worker, easing the end of the transition from booming mill town to—to whatever happened to towns like this"
The humor:
"`Mr. Rollison, you're so good I could almost believe you, except my boss looks like he just farted in front of the pope.'"
and
"`I talk when I want. Who knows? In five minutes, maybe not want to. Better ask quick before I change my mind, police man. Someone tell me once I am volatile. I like that word. I am volatile."

"You are peckerhead, Doc thought, kept it to himself."
© Peter Rozovsky 2013, 2015

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36 Comments:

Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

You've got me really curious about that ending.

August 23, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good! The only clue I can give is that the ending is bound up with one of the characters. Hmm, or the setting. Or both.

August 23, 2013  
Anonymous Mike Dennis said...

GRIND JOINT is next up on my TBR list, sitting on my nightstand beneath the book I'm reading now. I've read two others by Dana King and enjoyed them immensely. I'm sure this one won't let me down.

August 24, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here are some comments I posted last year about King’s novel Wild Bill. I hope as many panelists as possible read one another’s work. That could make for some lively discussion.

August 24, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

As a rust-belt emigrant--I escaped Allegheny County and Pittsburgh in 1972--I think I have to read Dana King's book simply to bask in the settings. After all, settings--in some many ways--are the heart and soul of fiction; in other words, there are limitations to characters and plots, but settings can become the singular "characters" in stories.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

Thanks for the re-post, Peter. The launch exceeded all expectations. I hope to have a full accounting available tomorrow.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I wonder that Dana would think of your choice of words, that you "escaped" Pittsburgh. I don't know that part of the country, but I do know that Dana's descriptions of his setting are refreshingly unsentimental. Take a look at his description of how he came to write the novel. (I like to it in the introduction to this post.)

November 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, I read your brief, favorable assessment of the launch. If the launch had happened two weeks earlier or two weeks later, I might have been able to attend. I'm glad it went well.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

The "escape" concept should not offend anyone in or from Pittsburgh. When I left the area, there were few options for jobs where I lived: steel mills or coal mines. The mills were winding down, and the mines were deathtraps. Hence, when I left Pittsburgh and went to the west coast, it was an "escape" without any insult.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In that case, Dana's work might fairly be called post-escape crime fiction. Everyone knows that Rust Belt and Northeast cities have been headed downhill for years; there's no novelty in such settings anymore. The next stage is post-decline civic boosterism, in which politicians, businesses, real-estate developers, public-private sector partnerships, and media join forces behind comeback efforts, dissent from which is unpatriotic, unexamined, and unthinkable. That's why I like Dana's simple declaration that Pittsburgh's much-ballyhooed comeback did not reach the area he calls Penns River.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P.S. Dana himself notes that he left Western Pennsylvania in 1980.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

I don't know this because I have not been there in so long, but I suspect PGH's "comeback" is limited to the downtown area. Up the 3 rivers, where steel mills once thrived, there is not much happening. And as for the coal mines, that industry is being crushed and destroyed. PGH may have a high-tech renaissance, but I suspect most of the western Pennsylvanians have been left behind.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's what Dana had to say on the matter:

"Pittsburgh recovered by remaking itself into a center of education, medicine, and finance. The southern and northern suburbs came back, some even better than before. ...

"Northwestern Westmoreland and northeastern Allegheny Counties missed most of this. There are isolated spots of progress in a landscape of small, local business trading money back and forth, helping each other to go under slower. This is the area I turned into Penns River.
"

I should emphasize that any righteous anger is mine. Dana does not polemicize; he just tells his stories. I'm the one who steams over the boosterism and about the newspaper stories that tout successes and whose subjects are forgotten when, say, the ballyhooed waterfront development does not materialize.

November 19, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Nice post.

Good luck with the launch, Dana. Always a pleasure to read your stuff...

November 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you concluded some time back that the Pittsburgh Pirates were the one team it was permissible to cheer for if one had no rooting attachment to a particular team. Are you ready to reconsider that assessment?

November 19, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I stick by that. Either Pittsburgh or Detroit.

No one can root for the Red Sox for at least another 100 years.

November 20, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

After reading your posting and the comments, and after exchanging fellow rust-belt emigrant Dana King, I am persuaded that I need to read his new book. My email to the publisher went out an hour ago.

November 20, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Oops! That should read "exchanging emails with fellow rust-belt emigrant."

Why I persist in making so many typos is a mystery to me. I will--in the absence of other evidence--blame it on age. Hey, that excuse works for thousands of shortcomings.

November 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I was hoping Detroit would win the AL pennant. Any team whose fans are ever referred to as "(Name of team) Nation" is radioactive for rooting purposes. A hundred years is about right for the Red Sox.

November 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: You had me wondering what you got in exchange for Dana King. Something good, I hope. He's a pleasant chap, too, and he gave an impressive talk on Raymond Chandler at Bouchercon this year. He is, in short, a man to be reckoned with.

I make errors like yours all the time and have done so since well before age was a plausible explanation (though back then I could have blamed the errors on the impetuosity endemic to youth.) One thinks faster than one writes, so the fingers sometimes have trouble keeping up with the brain.

November 20, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

Damn, I forgot to have Blogger email me when comments came in. My bad.

Rt and I have corresponded elsewhere since this thread took place, but, to close the loop here, I take no issue with his term, "escape." I left when I joined the army in 1980, and have lived all over the eastern part of the country since. (Atlanta, Boston, Washington DC, Chicago, and now the DC area again.) I've had opportunities to move farther west, but never went. The Beloved Spouse commented a few years ago that I refer to trips to visit my parents--who still live in the house I grew up in--as "going home," and, when we return to our home, as "going back to Maryland." That may sum up my feelings about the place, warts and all, better than anything.

November 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Count our friend Adrian McKinty as one of those crime writers who wrote fine novels about his home city after he left it.

November 25, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'm glad you mentioned this:

Pittsburgh recovered by remaking itself into a center of education, medicine, and finance. The southern and northern suburbs came back, some even better than before. ...

"Northwestern Westmoreland and northeastern Allegheny Counties missed most of this. There are isolated spots of progress in a landscape of small, local business trading money back and forth, helping each other to go under slower. This is the area I turned into Penns River.

Pittsburgh is quite a different kettle of fish to - say - Detroit or Lowell, Mass - company towns that suffered mass emigration after the company closed or left. Pittsburgh is well placed geographically to recover and when I was last there in 2012 seemed to be doing pretty well. I'm not so sanguine about Detroit despite all the recent optimism.

June 25, 2015  
Blogger R.T. said...

And McKeesport? D0A.

June 25, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

Thank you, sir. I am gobsmacked by your generosity.

June 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I've only ever been to Pittsburgh to make a phone call from the train station. I ought to stay a little longer next time.

Philadelphia has done pretty well in recent years, by most accounts, but my enthusiasm has been tempered by the continuing venality and incompetence of city officials, plus continuing stupidity in day-to-day operations, not to mention the plight of the city's schools. And one tends not to read the occasional burst of manufactured optimism about Camden, N.J., across the river, the way one used to.

I quite like the way Dana gently punctures the noxious cloud of booseterism, without denigrating areas that have indeed recovered. (But face it: He's just happy that the Pirates are doing well and that their best player seems to be a nice guy with a good head on his shoulders.)

And yep, I noticed that you gave Grind Joint a nice blurb.

June 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T.: I've never been to McKeesport, though I always thought it was a cool name, and I once had a colleague from Pennsylvania named McKee.

Dana, any comments on Pennsport?

June 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Generosity nothing. I finished reading the book last night. What a terrific haunting ending that was. (I resort to vague adjectives only to avoid spoilers. But I can see from that ending why you might like at least one other genre of popular American writing and film.)

June 26, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

Pennspost would not have been a bad choice. I went with Penns River because there is so much said about the confluence of the three rivers in Pittsburgh, and importance the rivers have in the local communities. Key economic elements years ago, but they still have everyday effects, if only because of the bridges they require, and how all travel must be planned around the bridges. The Hulton Bridge in Oakmont (about halfway from Penns River to the Point in Pittsburgh) was closed for a couple of weeks recently for construction and the papers were full of detour information and traffic impacts until it re-opened.

June 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Pennsport? What the hell was I thinking? I meant to type "McKeesport."

June 26, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

McKeesport would have been okay, too, but it was taken.

As for the town itself, it's been years (as in 40) since I've been there. What I remember was not unlike the towns that make up Penns River, though less rural than much of PR.

June 26, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Pennsport is a neighborhood of Philadelphia, wedged between South Philadelphia and Center City. I must have been distracted when I typed that comment.

June 26, 2015  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

We all want the Pirates to do well. The Steelers I can take or leave but the Pirates are a team you can root for. I'd go for the Cubbies too if they weren't such a trendy underdog team.

June 27, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian:

Every time that Andrew McCutcheon opens his mouth, he wins my admiration.

You're a baseball fan, but I don't know how long you've been one. Did you catch the tribute to Willie Stargell in Grind Joint? And isn;t it nice that the Red Sox look like snapping their worst-to-first streak this year?

June 27, 2015  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I did. I've only been going to games since 1990 (my first was at Wrigley which is why I was spoiled from the getgo) but I have kept up with the lore.

I'm a dyed in the wool NYY fan of course but I feel I can't whole heartedly root for my team while ARod is there. So my attention wont fully be back on the AL east until 2017.

A KC Pittsburgh series wd be great.

June 27, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, the Rpyals became a good team last year without being obnoxious. (And Wilver, the name of the kid in Grind Joint, was also Willie Stargell's first name.)

The AL East is a vacuum when it comes to coolness and ability, isn't it? The Rays used to sort of cool until Joe Maddon left, and the Blue Jays show little signs of deviating from a pattern I detected a few years ago: They either are picked to finish last and surprise the world by finishing third, or else they're picked to contend, and they disappoint the world by finishing third.

Meanwhile, I have taken new interest in Philadelphia's teams, because all are right on the brink of chaos, or else are falling a part in especially ghastly ways--good fun if one is not a native.

June 28, 2015  

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