Saturday, August 27, 2016

Another Spenser Novel

"The cabbie drove me down from Route 1 to the center of town, through the hot green tunnel of July trees. Lawns were being watered, dogs were being called, bikes were being ridden, cookouts were being done, pools were being splashed drinks were being had, tennis was being played. Suburbia writ large. There was some kind of barbecue underway on the common around the meeting house. The smoke from the barbecue wagons hung over the folding tables in a light good-smelling haze. There were dogs there and children and a balloon man. I did not hear him whistle far and wee. If he had, it wouldn't have been for me." (Robert Parker, The Judas Goat, p. 157)
My 1983 paperback edition.
Back in the late 1970s when Robert Parker published The Judas Goat,  editors (as far as I know) were fanatic about the rule that one should not use the passive voice. I wonder if Parker had to fight to keep this paragraph as is. It reads as if he meant to demonstrate how the passive voice could work in his sparse style. Each time I reread it, I wonder about it. Did he mean to emphasize that in Suburbia all these things -- watering lawns, cooking out, etc -- were done without agency (the technical term critics use when they decry passive voice use)? I wish I knew.

In fact, Parker could really do a lot with language! Spenser, the fictitious private investigator who narrates the novels about himself, has a very powerful and entertaining voice. The Judas Goat is only the fifth of Parkers thirty-nine Spenser novels, so his exaggerated short sentences, wisecracks, and self-praising remarks hadn't yet become formulaic.

As always, Spenser's love of good food offers lots of chances for the reader to admire his prose. Sometimes the descriptions read as if he was auditioning to write for Jane and Michael Stern -- who published the first Road Food a year before The Judas Goat appeared. I suspect both were reflecting a trend of some kind.

On the way to the suburban scene in the quote, near his girlfriend Susan Silverman's house, Spenser had gone to Karl's Sausage Kitchen and Donovan's Package Store. (Parker always seemed to use real food places -- Karl's still existed as recently as 2012.) Once in Susan's kitchen, Spenser tells us:
"I found some Utica Club cream ale in the refrigerator and opened a can while I unpacked my delicatessen in the kitchen. There was veal loaf and pepper loaf and beer wurst, and Karl's liverwurst, which you could slice or spread and which made my blood flow a little faster when I thought of it. 
"I had bought two cartons of German potato salad and some pickles and a loaf of Westphalian rye and a jar of Dusseldorf mustard." (p. 158)
You get the idea. Quite a bit later, after greeting Susan whom he hasn't seen in a long time (during which he'd been out hunting assassins and killing some of them) they get around to eating -- "I put two slices of veal loaf on some rye bread, added a small application of Dusseldorf mustard, put another slice of bread on top and bit. I chewed and swallowed." (p. 164)

That's Spenser. His descriptions of killing bad guys are just as wry and detached as his descriptions of food. Another thing The Judas Goat has going for it is that the great character Hawk plays a big role. If you don't know Hawk, you should read this book. You could (re)read it even if you do.

P.S. If you didn't notice the reference in the quoted paragraph to an e. e. cummings poem, look at this. Spenser is not just sensitive, handsome, talented, cold-blooded, food-appreciating, and a fabulous lover of Susan Silverman -- he's also very well-read in poetry and world lit.


Tina said...

I can add this to my list :-) By the way, in my last post you asked about my favorites, reading wise.

If I had to choose one genre it would be the mystery/thriller type. I like some apocalyptic lit, I don't like cozy mysteries though. There was a post a while back called Ramblings from the Stack I grabbed from Katherine at I Wish I Lived in a Library. If you'd like, check it out:

I would love to hear your thoughts on magic words with books. Sometimes, it's a cover that grabs me. How about you?

Mae Travels said...

Tina -- I read what both you and Katherine had to say about "magic words" that convince you to read (or at least consider reading) a book.

You both list certain places and eras that you like to read about -- in a similar way, I like historical fiction. I am not very particular about the location or time frame but want it very well researched! I especially like to read novels or memoirs about unusual places but prefer that the author really have roots and experiences in those places, such as "Americanah" which I read recently. Or the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrente. Or Margaret Atwood's early and middle life books situated in Toronto. Or Murakami's novels in Japan.

Interesting question... thanks! ... mae

Tina said...

Mae, I just saw your comment both here and on my book blog. I'm so glad you weighed in on this question. I liked that post by Katherine and it got me thinking about what inspires me to pick up a book, just to check it out. I also like historical fiction and it sweeps me to another place. I haven't read Atwood in ages, must rectify that.

I like that you copied our answer in your blog here as well as mine. You never know where some one will see a response. Have a great evening!

Jeanie said...

These posts are reminding me how I liked these books. I may have to revisit them!