“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Friday Project: WILD AT HEART by Barry Gifford

Patti Abbott is working on a project called Fridays: The Book You Have to Read, the gist of which is to refresh people’s memories about great books that might have slipped off the radar. Last week we did Horace McCoy’s KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE. This week we’re picking – trumpet parp, if you will, maestro – Barry Gifford’s WILD AT HEART.

“Findin’ out the meanin’ of life and all is fine, far as it goes, but dead’s dead, you know what I mean?”
  Barry Gifford, WILD AT HEART
Barry Gifford doesn’t waste words. WILD AT HEART – THE STORY OF SAILOR AND LULA (1990) is a novel written by an author who is also a prize-winning poet, which partially explains his ability to pack 44 chapters into 156 pages and also goes some way towards explaining the impressionistic, imagistic style he employs. Each chapter is a short, punchy vignette in which Sailor and Lula outline their philosophy on life while striving to stay one step ahead of the law and the potential killer Lula’s Mama has set on their trail. A seamless blend of ’30s hard-boiled brevity and the on-the-road Beat tradition of the ’50s, WILD AT HEART comes on like the deranged offspring of Horace McCoy and Jack Kerouac as he struggles to draw breath in the sultry atmosphere of a William Faulkner short story.
  On his release from prison after serving a term for manslaughter, Sailor Ripley breaks parole and takes to the road with Lula Pace Fortune in order to escape the oppressive grasp of Lula’s disproving mother, Marietta. The plot doesn’t get any more convoluted than that; what sustains WILD AT HEART’s narrative is the colourful cast of characters the couple encounter on their flight west towards California. By turns intriguing, bizarre, grotesque and lethal, the collection of misfits only serves to confirm Lula’s heartfelt conviction that the world is indeed ‘wild at heart and weird on top.’
  Imbued with Southern gentility and decorum, Gifford’s style has been described by critic Patrick Beach as ‘chicken-fried noir’ and – as per the rules of hard-boiled fiction – a happy ending is never on the cards for the star-crossed lovers. “Safe?” exclaims Marietta’s friend, Dal. “Safe? Ain’t that a stitch. Ain’t nobody nowhere never been safe a second of their life.” The frisson generated by a blend of uncertain direction and inevitable danger crackles from the back seat of Lula’s white ’75 Bonneville convertible. A distraught Lula can force Sailor to dump a crazy hitchhiker when the kid gets a little too weird for her liking, but she remains all too aware of the overwhelming forces – not least of which is that of Fate – ranged against the pair:
Sailor stroked Lula’s head.
“It ain’t gonna be forever, peanut.”
Lula closed her eyes.
“I know, Sailor. Nothin’ is.”

3 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think I was one of the few people who loved the movie version but then I love Laura Dern. Thanks for reminding me a novel preceded it.

Neil said...

Great book. Yes, more gonzo noir!

Declan Burke said...

Hi Patti - I love that movie, I think it's hilarious ... Neil - 'Gonzo noir'? I love it. Sounds like the kind of entirely disreputable sub-genre a man of perverse ambition might aspire to. Consider me a disciple forthwith ... Cheers, Dec