Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Floodgate: Why you should read Johnny Shaw's amazing new book

Johnny Shaw's new novel may not transcend a genre, but it embraces lots of them. Floodgate partakes of 1930s-style urban crime story, comedy, heartstring-tugging melodrama, dystopian urban fantasy, non-dystopian contemporary urban comedy, Western, epic (albeit filtered through The Warriors), martial arts (albeit with unexpected weapons), gangster fiction, ninja movies, old-time family melodrama, graphic novels without pictures, picaresque, and men's adventure.

That's less a departure for Shaw than it is an explosive expansion of areas he tackled in his previous fiction: the touching, deadpan-funny, violent rural noir of the novels Plaster City, Big Maria, and Dove Season, and the affectionate tributes to 1970s men's adventure of Blood and Tacos, including Shaw's own "Chingón: The World's Deadliest Mexican."

What holds all this together? What keeps it from becoming winking pastiche, the sort of thing that makes people who think they're clever say: "I see what you did there"? Shaw's narrative pace. His ability to lampoon a literary tradition's excesses while loving them at the same time. The occasional gut-busting jokes (My favorites in Floodgate are the epigraphs that purport to be excerpts from real memoirs, histories, plays, and news reports about the novel's setting of Auction City.) And Shaw's heart. A reader is just as likely to be touched by the resignation of a character about to die as to laugh out loud at the jokes and japery.

© Peter Rozovsky 2016



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