Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Shaw-King development: Two authors join my list of year's favorites

Here are two enjoyable additions to my favorite books of 2013. along with some of what I wrote about them earlier this year:

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

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Blogger seana graham said...

I've got Grind Joint now. Looking forward to it after I get through a bit of obligatory reading.

January 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana's a smart guy, too. Maybe we can all hoist a beer in Long Beach.

January 08, 2014  
Blogger Dana King said...

Thank you, Peter. This is supremely flattering.

Seana, I hope you enjoy it.

I'm looking forward to sharing at least one beverage with both of you in Long Beach. (Hotel reservations have been made, conference fee paid.)

January 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cheers. Until a month ago, I'd have said I still have to make my plane reservations. Now I'll say I have yet to make my train reservations.6855284 45

January 08, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

You continue adding to my reading list. Well, I will apparently have more time for reading. For an explanation, see my posting today.

January 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I was not pleased to read that bit of news. Of my recent reading, I suspect that Curzio Malaparte might be closest to your heart.

January 08, 2014  
Anonymous Mike Dennis said...

I loved GRIND JOINT for all the reasons Peter cited, and I'm especially delighted that Dana chose me to do the voiceover for the audiobook version. I hope I do it justice.

January 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Very cool! I will look forward to that voiceover.

January 09, 2014  

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