The Literary Life

Altered from its original published form. See the Hil-Gle Wonderblog for details.


 

Drift Marlow is back!Put that in eighteen point all-caps and add a half score of exclamation points.I suppose that's what I'm to say.Hammer is brilliant.Hammer is at the top of his form.

Who the heck is Hammer? He/She/It has published ten novels, two of which have been 'made into something'.One was a movie, the other a 'mini-series'.How I missed both, I don't know.

What I do know is that promotion performs its own type of suction.Hammer has heavy promotion.One's work always does after it's been 'made into something'.That's what Clive Hammer is is a best-seller.My choice is to either to suck up and be sucked in, or to be sucked out.Nailing a novel that 'everyone' is going to read anyway is bad business.

It's a 'page-turner', a 'thriller', 'summer fun on paper'.This thing is a sure-fire hit, just on inertia.My review is an audition for a blurb on the back cover of the paperback edition.The New York Times, a quiet god, has already ravaged this book--as it has everything 'Clive Hammer' has ever done.But the customers, such as they are, still are buying.There's no point in being contrary.

This is not the New York Times.This is the Chicago Mercury, a paper read mostly by people who live in the suburbs.Older people.Sedentary people.People who love the Cubs and listen to radio station W.G.N.(All of the above is owned by the same company.) Let's get happy, get old and die together.

And I'm there!I'm an outside contractor.I don't even work for the Mercury.I just review the books the Old Fart doesn't want to.My reviews are reportsthe Old Fart puts in his own words.(Signs his name to and copies verbatim.) Really, I'm auditioning for his job.(Waiting for him to die.)I wouldn't fight selling out.I simply can't remember a damn lingering thing about the novel.I'm supposed to be looking up Hammer's skirt here.Nothing is coming.

All I can recall is how the book came to me.Generally, a book publisher's promotions department is staffed by the lowest form of MENSA human life.You typically get a photocopied packet of uncorrected galleys, complete with editor's markings.The promotions department doesn't have time to make things exactly readable for us lowly reviewers.Too busy, what with thewife-swapping parties and the analyst’s appointments, don't you know.(Intercourse New York and all who live in it!) I usually have to sort of infer what the book will be like when it's finally done.

Not this time.Clive Hammer's book came in 'Trade Paperback' form.'Trade Paperbacks' started appearing in the late 1970s.The guts areheavy bleached white stock.The type is larger.As for the covers, they are uniformly darker, not as colorful, and not as well lacquered as the standard paperback.Size-wise, they are a half step between the paperback and the standard hardcover.I can't say much more.I will say that I would buy these Trade Editions over normal paperbacks any day.Then again, I would buy Pulp Magazines, if they were still being published.

Much of what I review should have been published in the Pulps.The Pulps have a bad rep.Their cover illustrations seldom had anything to do with the words found inside.As for the writing, in places it was homogenized horrible, and, in other places, wildly uneven.The Pulps were a dare.Here's a good cover; go in here.

Someone in Clive Hammer's camp has stumbled onto the old Pulp formula.The cover is fantastic.It's a film noir: in reds, tans and blacks.It's a photo of a pair of woman’s legs, sheathed in black nylon.The point of view is from under a table or a desk.Her legs aren't spread wide open--as I might like--but rather, curled so as to show off the shape of her calves.In case I missed the point, there's a yellow Post-It note fastened to the lower right corner of the cover.It reads 'THE BEST GAMS IN THE BUSINESS.'

So I read the darn book.

Drift Marlow does spy stuff.The longest descriptive passages are valentines to lethal technology.After that, everything's in shorthand.No one really says anything.The settings are labeled, rather than described: a beach in Aruba; a hotel room in Aspen; a cafe in Soho and a casino in Monaco.(Neat places, I'm sure.Definitely not Prospect Heights, where I reside.) The only object given the love of words to, is a 'pie plate, recently retrieved by salvage experts from the waters off Key West.' This thing gets broken and shoved into someone's eye.People have 'a face like a fist', 'an hourglass figure' and a 'svelt bod, snugly wrapped' in something or other.

Remembering the names of fabrics is one of my lacking points.All I know is that there is not a single word squandered on someone's thigh, hip, calve, kneecap, ankle or toe.So why the flying frig are there a pair of legs on the cover?

This bugged me all day--as I was squatting in my pit at Jiffy Lube, having oil leaked on me.Upon returning to my soon-to-be-vacated-by-order-of-the-Cook-County-Sheriff abode, I broke down and reread the thing.Again, the closest thing I found to a leg reference was various permutations of the word 'walked'.People do walk, run, bolt, and dive in this novel.A reasonable person might assume they have legs of some sort.And the novel is populated by an unreasonable number of striking, gorgeous, lust-inducing people; although with the exception of the errant boob, peck or erection, body parts are seldom itemized.I'll give Clive Hammer some credit by saying that he did describe a few eyes.All of them were blue.

My eyes are blue.And they were tired.Exhausted from my search for those promised legs, those peepers did finally rest on an odd something printed on the back of the front cover.It was in raised, business card type.Hard to miss it.Harder to figure out what it meant.

June Sleaver

Literary Forward Manager

212/555-9091

Fax: 800/555-9987

Beeps: 800/555-9983

Sleavs@AQL.com.

Since she was my only lead, I gave her a call.On the 212 number.A phone is the last bit of technology currently available to me.We played phone tag.

Days passed.I had just returned from my toil at Jiffy Lube. Before approaching the Smith-Corona Manual Expert, I wanted to become one with a jar of Goop.(Smith-Corona had filed for bankruptcy that same day.) The temperature here had settled at 106.And no, it wasn't a dry heat.(Maybe 600 geezers who didn't want to run the ACmight be dead by the end of this scalding snap.) Topping off the day's experience was a back flush which had gone terribly, terribly wrong.I was a sweaty mess, punctuated by streams of dried green ooze.I didn't want to touch anything.Ring, ring.The phone company was being overly generous.I wasn't going to pay them, either.Theoretically, thisdevice should have been turned off months ago.Since it costs nothing to answer a call, I answered it.Any phone call might be my last.

I sat down on the floor, next to the Smith-Corona.With a Martins' Oil matchbook, I lit uncle Meyer's Memorial candle.(Communist Edsel, the electric company, has not been quite so generous.)

It's June Sleaver.Her voice is husky.She speaks in full sentences--well.The wit on the other end is quick.She must have a pulse and a body which radiates at least room temperature heat.Probably can fog up a mirror with the best of them.I won't lower my standards further.Marry me, [CENSORED].

With a high-handed introductory phrase, she solves the mystery: Those are her legs."And I'd like to think the rest of me is pretty neat, too," she offers."I'm playing a game with the people who called me back.I'm casting the characters from the book for the movie.Who do you think should play Drift?"

"Basil Rathbone."

"Isn't he dead?"

"Aren't we all?"

(And I wonder why I do so poorly with women.)

"Chicago is a very important market for us.What's said in the Mercury is very important to people who read--"

"--If you don't read, you can always use the Mercury to wrap fish.Or to make cat box liners or to train puppies.Or you could use it as a hat.It's the wonder product which works wonders."

"I'm in Kansas City now.I'm doing my mid-west swing to promote the book.I got nowhere with the reviewer from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.I'm gonna get nowhere with the Kansas City guy.I need the Mercury.I have to contact the Mercury's reviewer."

"Mr. (Old Fart) can be reached at (Mr. Old Fart's address).Mr. (Old Fart's) number is--"

"--No!-No!-No!He doesn't do the reviews.Besides...he's a [CENSORED].That doesn't work for me.I need to get to the guy who actually does the reviews."

"I would love to meet with you.But, unfortunately, I don't exist.--"

"--Don't hang up the phone!DO NOT HANG UP THE PHONE!I love you!I will do anything for--"

Click.

No one has ever said 'I love you' to me before.Not even in jest.Having set down the phone to cut her off, I pick it up again.The line is dead.Time to put the phone in a box.It joins my other boxed belongings.The Smith-Corona and I watch the sun set behind the arrangement of boxes that I have so neatly set up in the center of what used to be my living room.

It will be the neatest eviction on record.Maybe I should get a jump on my fate and dig my own grave? (I really do hate to be any bother.) Having a woman with nice legs say she loves me might be the highlight of my life.Right now, it will have to do for romance.I feel the previously rented walls start to close in on me.I grab the Smith-Corona and go.

(No, I do not have a thing for my typewriter.I don't know when the Sheriff’s thugs are going to show up.And I don't want them tossing it around.)

Smitty-Corey and I pass the time with a little drive north down Rand Road.The Yugo's fuel is about to E line, when I work an impulse and pull into a place called 'Prancers.'The place used to be called 'La Petit Prairie' or something like that.It's a strip club.Everyone I've ever asked about it told me to stay away from the place.But I can't remember why.

Even the bouncer knows how bad the club's rep used to be.When I ask him about whether or not the place used to be called such and such, he cuts me off with "It's not that way anymore.Now it's nice."

"Same owner?"

"Yeah.All new girls now.Real nice.It's $25 to get in, and that includes one free drink.We serve Coke, Sprite and Near Beer.Can't serve alcohol, because it's total nudity."

It doesn't take much stimulation to get me going.Having some babe with nice legs protocol an 'I love you' over the phone is enough to get the juices rolling.It's a drug: now I want more stimulation.But $25 will break me.It will set me back days from my stated objective of buying a used car large enough to sleep in.

From weak to pathetic.I pay the $25.I hand the guy two twenties.He hands me back fifteen singles.And I get 'marked' going in.(Don't ever go in these places alone.)

The beam of a flashlight calls me to my seat.As I 'excuse me' my way to a place the second row back, I note the act currently on stage.A very tan, dark haired woman is humping the tinsel on the wall.Nothing that goes on here is real.Striding the stage is a fantasy--one that gets intermittently interrupted by men tipping the dancer a dollar.In fact, being interrupted to be tipped is the point of the dance.What humping the tinsel means is beyond me?

No sooner have I settled into my seat, when a woman parks herself in my lap.As I said, I got marked going in.The greeter was issuing conspiratorial whispers as I passed him.

She's wearing day-glow,dangling,polyester...stuff...And not much of it.Only security guards, strippers and guys like me still wear this fabric.Why are we all stuck in the 1970s?

Moreover, why is polyester the only type of fabric I can name?

For $10 she'll stay and talk.For $65 she'll take me to the back and make me 'happy'.(Fat chance!)For $287, odd number, she'll do something else that I don't quite understand.She wants to know how much money I have.Once I tell her it's $15, she jumps off my lap and flops on another sucker.

I spend the $15 and scram.

From there, I went to Sporters.It's a sports bar.(What kind of [CENSORED] is that? Just give me a [CENSORED] beer and a shot of something.I don't need the theme park.) I plopped myself into a stool and ordered a Bud and a shot of Southern Comfort.

Three beers and two shots will break me.Hell with it.Break me.

A beer and two shots into the ordeal, a pair of goons take seats next to me.I'm watching one of the twenty-eight million televisions that are hung on the walls around me.None of them have the sound on.That's why I heard what the goons were saying.

I think people in the next county heard what the goons were saying.They were that loud, that bombastic.

"People call me a professional shooter," Goon One said."I'm doing trap shooting now.Used to do some skeet shooting.Used to be a Police Explorer, back when I was a kid.The PDs (police departments) used to trade me around.I'd go here, I'd go there.Pretend to be a part of one department or another.Whatever they wanted.Won every shoot.Got a badge out of it."

"I was a bit too young for Viet Nam," Goon Two said."About fourteen.I won every shoot I was in.People notice that.A guy came to talk to me.Things got said.I did some things.I'm not at liberty to discuss the details."

Goon One chimed in with "I know what you mean.I couldn't get a job with a PD.I'm the best shooter out there, but I got a bum leg.Everyone knows how good I am.I mean, everyone.I did a job for a guy.I shouldn't talk about it."

Goon Two gave him a knowing look and said "I had a job.A federal job.Let's just say that there was someone that wanted to say something that some people didn't want to hear said.Me and my gun, we took care of it.I have a talent."

Goon One topped him, saying "Since I couldn't get a job with the cops, I went the other way.I took care of business for some people.Connected people, you know?"

"I never know when someone's going to call me," Goon Two said."That's why I always got my piece with me.I love my gun."

"A guy broke into my house one time," offered Goon One."I had to do what I had to do.No one found out about it.I love my gun."

"Colt Python, don't leave home without it," Goon Two says.

I had heard enough.I turned to the goons and snapped "Take it outside.You keep talking this nonsense and I'm gonna jam this Budweiser bottle down your throat."

One of the goons asked "You're going to do what down whose?"

"I'm going to shove this Budweiser bottle down your throat and then out your [CENSORED] and then I'm going to shove it down yourbuddy's throat and out his [CENSORED]."

I am not a particularly physically impressive person.I did fully intend to do what I said, however.Perhaps that showed.The goons were frozen.I got off my bar stool and bellowed "Come on, you're hit men.Show me your guns.Do me!I want you to."

They ran for it.

I semi-chased them and then taunted (because that's just the kind of guy I am) "Hey, Mr. Killers, come on back.You want a piece of me? Lying about killing people--that's sick.You want to lie, lie about sex.That's healthy."

I went back to my stool.Bess the barmaid came up and asked "Munsey, something wrong?"

"I think I've had enough to drink."

Boy, did I.What if those guys were stupid enough to be packing guns? (It doesn't seem likely.) They could have popped me and it would have been self-defense.I attacked them.I provoked the entire incident.

Wow.I'm a big [CENSORED] idiot.

Made a dry run at being homeless that night.The PADS(People Active Delivering Shelter) shelter in Wheaton was closed.During the summer the staff does 'advocacy'.Good for them.Bad for me.They speak on WGN (World's Greatest Newspaper)a lot.

I parked the car behind Jiffy Lube.Me and the Smith-Corona proved that the Yugo is not afit place to sleep that night.

On the other hand, I got to work on time.Spent the day wondering how I was going to work this.I could move back to Flagstaff and live with my parents in their trailer.(I'd rather be dead.)The best option I had was signing up for Section Eight housing.(This requires political connections that I don't have.) Was there any way that I could stretch out being evicted? Nope.The landlord deserves his money.If I had a car big enough to sleep in, I could take showers at truck stops and still be able to maintain my 'standard of living'.

Imagine not being able to accomplish this much.And I can't.

It gave me something to think over as I was going about my $8.43 an hour job.The world had gone wild.Chicago's temperature had stuck at 90.Cars were going winky all over the place.We had three lines of cars, four deep, all day. 3:00 P.M.was the first time I hada chance to look up--and then only because someone spoke my name.

"Mr. Munsey, can I speak with you?"

No one calls me 'Mr. Munsey'.No one ever has.The name on my uniform's round patch reads 'Sam'.Sam is not my first name.

A look up.I see those black nylon sheathed legs."Ms Sleaver, I presume?"

She was right.The rest of her is pretty neat, too.Her long, jet black hair flows straight down from under the halo of a red,wide-brimmed hat.She has a rather plain, angular face.But the make-up job is to die for.Solid brown swaths shade her eyes, accentuating her made-even olive complexion.It's obvious that she has had a lot of work done.That long-tooth smile she flashes is strictly porcelain.

You can nip, tuck and liposuction a lot of stuff.There's a long view that comes with age that no surgeon can remove.I'd say she's 45.At least.She's had things lifted and tightened.

(Oh look, description.No one wants to read description anymore.Everyone wants fast plot and homogenized 'witty' dialog.Like 'you die' and '[CENSORED] me' are witty? Character development, forget it.When it comes to setting details, they want brand names.She was wearing a red Gucci purse, his wash-board abs were festooned in a Versace shirt under a custom-tailored Armani single breast.Yeah, great.What color was the suit?)

This still-nice looking person is wrapped in a high fashion red business suit.Her doctor deserves the Emmy, the Oscar and the Nobel Prize.The puffy shoulders are present.A clinging black skirt escapes under her coat.

A woman in drag.No woman is this feminine.

"I'm afraid I don't have any time," I tell her."I'm multi-tasking here.The next car needs a back flush, an oil and filter change and a lube job."

She kneels down and looks me straight in the eyes."Mr. Munsey, I have a gun."

She did, too.It was in her purse.I caught a glimpse of its silver butt.Too small to be a revolver.Some kind of tiny automatic.

"The book sucked," I said.

"Get out of that pit or I will shoot you dead."

"The book really sucked."

"I don't care.Tell your boss you're taking a break and come with me.I'm sure it's not the first erratic thing you've ever done."

She was right about that.My boss took a look at her, assumed she was something (probably my parole officer) and let me go.

We walked to her car.It was a pink sports job with no roof."Nice car," I said."What is it?"

"I don't know.I'm only renting it for today.You wanna drive it?" And then she flung the keys at me.

We got into the car.

"This is a nice car," she said."Smell it."

It smelled nice.It smelled new."Where are we going?" I asked.

She asked "Where do you live?"

"That Yugo over there."

"You're kidding me, right?"

"Technically I have another place to live.Eventually I will live in my car.Whatever car I have."

"That's a hell of a plan, Sam."

"It's the only plan I have."

"Take me to where you technically live."

"My typewriter is in the Yugo."

"We can work around that.I have a lap-top."

I put the car in drive and it attacked Rand Road."This is a nice car."

"You know who 'Nice' is? Nice was a murderer.People started using his name as an adjective sarcastically.That's the word's origin."

"The book really sucked."

"I don't care."

"Clive Hammer sucks."

"Clive Hammer doesn't exist.Clive Hammer is a figment of my imagination.I used to have clients, real clients, real writers, and they were a pain in the ass.I'd bust my hump for these people.I got them deals and then they would blow them.It takes forever to find someone marginally printable.The people I found were all freaks!They didn't deliver on time.They got into fights with their editors.The editors are the guardians of the trees: they want to make sure you don't splash paper with words unless you mean it.

"Look at your damn supermarket.There is all of eight feet of shelf space dedicated for every novel in the world.Getting books on those shelves is my job.If I'm going to invest my time and my effort into a writer, he has to produce.--You want to go write a book on how you're a lesbian trapped in a man's body, write it.It might even get published.Win the American Book Award.Go ahead.Two people are going to read it and the only thing it's going to get you, in the long run, is a professorship at Georgetown University.Then you can teach other people how to write books no one reads.-- I want people who write [CENSORED] people want to read.I never found a single one of them!

"I thought I was going to do better with the New York Times Book Review.I really did.I do schmooze patrol.That'swhat I do.Get to know people.That's how business works: an interconnected cycle of reciprocal relationships.Get people to like me.Get people to push my books.I found the guy who was doing the review for Clive Hammer's latest.He wasn't gay.--I can't work around someone being gay.I don't have the tools.--No reader reads the New York Times Book Review.The wholesalers, the retailers, the buyers, they read it.I need those people.So I cozy up with the reviewer.

"I slept with the guy!We went up to his apartment.He tied me up, he threw me down on this bearskin rug...and then he [CENSORED] on me!The guy whipped out his [CENSORED] and took a [CENSORED]on me!And I'm lying there, looking up, watching this [CENSORED] and I'm thinking 'one good word from him and I move thirty thousand units'.

"And then he [CENSORED] panned the book!He said fun is fun, but business is business.I told him 'Excuse me, but I [CENSORED]and you [CENSORED]: this doesn't work for me'."

I am a long-time fan of the National Hockey League.It is my observation that the player who gets the harshest penalty for a fight is often not the instigating party.

"You give me a good review or I'm going to blow your head off!"

We arrived at my apartment complex.My belongings had not yet been scraped from the flat.There was a big red sticker on my door that read 'You are evicted.Locks will be changed in 24 hours'.

While I was working the lock, June asked "Are you being evicted?"

"No.The sticker is just there for decoration.It's a chick magnet."

"You're kidding."

"I'm being evicted."

"So you need money."

"I don't need money."

"You don't need money? For what don't youneed money?"

We went through the door.

"What's with the boxes?"

"I'm being evicted."

"I mean, what's with the mint chocolates on top of each of the boxes?"

"My theory is that the Sheriff's men will be less prone to be rough with my stuff if they have a nice chocolate in their mouth."

"I want you to start thinking about phrases for your review.Summer fun on paper.The action, the sex...it's hot.Hot, hot, hot.And it's not gratuitous.It's all seamlessly germane to the plot.Clive Hammer is his great old self, but better.With this novel, Hammer not only reinvigorates the spy genre, he reinvents it.This is the action novel of the year, maybe the decade.Drift Marlow is up to date and ready for the twenty-first century.Clearly the strongest book in the series so far.Hammer's work has an uncanny depth between the lines."

"What book did you read?"

"I didn't read it."

"The book I read sucked."

"Mr. Munsey, I've tried the stick, now I'll try the carrot.I can be a very, very good carrot."

"It was written by monkeys."

"I don't care."

"It was written by Sea Monkeys."

"I don't care."

"If you didn't write it, who wrote it?"

"I don't know.Some drunk.Who writes anything? Some drunk."

"There wasn't a single original thought in it.It was like someone sat down and plagiarized all of the least memorable parts of the worst Matt Helm movies."

"People who can, do.People who can't, teach.And people who can't do nor teach, criticize.-- Mr. Munsey, I've been [CENSORED] on.I am not about to take into consideration the opinion of some hyper-pretentious grease monkey.I have a gun.Do I have to jam it up your nose?"

Yes, she did.I stood shock still and calm as she did it.She didn't get me, as I could see in her eyes, so I made myself plain with: "Right now, not dying at my own hand would be considered something of an accomplishment."

Her mouth came open, but no words came out.She started to cry.

Clive Hammer is back!This is SUMMER FUN on paper.If you miss TO DIE AND DIE AGAIN, you have missed a literary movement in and of itself.This book is subtle, insidious and a true work of art.It doesn't bother with details.TO DIE AND DIE AGAIN is deep between the lines.Hammer is truly at the top of his form.He's not merely reworking an old shop-worn genre, not merely re-invigorating it.This is invention.Drift Marlow is dressed up and more than ready for the millennium.Sex and violence grow organic from the novel's page turner plot.It's old, it's new and it’s all still great and grand.OBEY: THIS BOOK CANNOT BE PUT DOWN!!!TO DIE AND DIE AGAIN is a metaphor for everything.