Toros and Torsos--Craig McDonald


Take surrealism. Mix in Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, The Lady from Shanghai, the "Big Blow" of 1935, the Spanish Civil War, the Black Dahlia, and Castro's conquest of Cuba and you have the sweep of this book.

Now, mix in noir prose (a hard-bitten style that seems to thrive on language not often spoke by any of my acquaintances), a murderer who arranges victims to look like scenes from surrealist paintings, murder by grenade, a debauched and dissolute Hollywood cabal, and three or four switchbacks in plot, and you have the contours of the novel.

After I finished reading it, I looked at others' reviews and discovered, to my surprise, that they liked it far more than I did. I must admit to having found it compelling reading, but I was often put off by the poor editing job done on it. There were places where the prose sank into near incoherence because of this factor. Additionally, there was a tendency toward repetition in some places that was tiring. These are things than any good, even many great authors arrive at. As I've said before, it is the work of a good editor to assure that they do not come to light--or at least do not do so excessively.

And there was something else I found unsatisfactory about it--something that is hard to put a finger on and may be associated more with the genre that with this particular work. Somehow the ending just wasn't in tune with the rest of the book. Perhaps there were too many switchbacks, or too much slight of hand. It's difficult to say. Or perhaps it was that I just couldn't believe the main character. I was never convinced that this person associated with all the other famous people that he mentions in the book, There was something unconvincing about his interactions with the other characters. Or, again, it could be the conventions of the noir. I often find set pieces in noir fiction to be at least slightly unbelievable.

So, to tell you the truth, the jury is still out on this one. I'll probably think about it for a while. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to people who want to know more about the dark side of surrealism (pardon the redundancy). And as with many books these days, I learned a wonderful little tidbit about surrealist prison cells in repbulican Spain--so it was worth it for that alone. So my recommendation is limited but enthusiastic (because I'd like to talk to someone about this one)--to those who really enjoy and appreciate a good film noir novel.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 12, 2009 7:41 AM.

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