A fine sunny day of the weekend and then a wet one. The Fireweed have gone to seed, so on the sunny day their down drifted in the gin-clear air like a sortie of fairies. Today the rain and fog have moved in and the clouds have come down hard to the waterline. The cruise ship disappears into the mist within seconds of leaving the dock.
I have a trial to prepare for, witness travel to arrange, last minute interviews to take care of for work. This will be taking up the first priority at the days move closer to the first week of September. If I have time, at night I will work on several book reviews that need to be done. Most of my career I've written behind my day job as an investigator. One five year stretch I was lucky enough to stay home and take care of Finn and "Just Write". It seems so indulgent now, sitting at a desk and typing out my opinion of a book, or writing out my own tale.
When trials come now, I usually vomit on the morning of the first and second day. That's the tension level. Now I get rejection letters, I may be disappointed but I'm not all that worried. With cases, I have other peoples lives in my hands. This is the problem. This is what brings on the sleepless nights. The man sitting in jail who says, "I have put my faith in you."
Oh Lord. Just thinking about it makes my stomach hurt. When young writers come to me and are angst-y about their careers and their manuscripts I am understanding... there was a time in my life that I thought I was absolutely going to die if I didn't get published, but... time passed... and I didn't. Then I threw a hail Mary pass and spent seven years writing a book and it did get published and it won some awards and got good reviews. In other words, I stuck it out and got lucky. Like with most things, relationships, jobs, you find the one you have a good feeling about... you stick with it and hope you get lucky. Hope your education gave you good judgement. Anyway... angst comes with the territory but its like my Native friends say writers problems are White People problems. With young writers I often ask... have you been arrested? Do you need bail money? Anybody dead, or disfigured? No... you are good to go.
This week I read Willy Vlautin's Lean On Pete which is a beautiful book written in the first person from the point of view of a fifteen year old boy named Charley, who moves with his father to Portland, Oregon and gets a job working on the "backside" of the rundown racetrack there. He befriends a broken-down race horse named Lean on Pete. If this sounds like the set up for a Disney feel-good-triumph-over-adversity tale then prepare for a hard road before you get there. Such sad things happen to Charlie that, at one point I thought, "This Willy Vlautin is one hard hearted son of a bitch. He is likely to do anything before I finish this book." I like that quality in a writer. He really might do anything.
The language is spare, and precise. It never gets artful or preachy because of the choices Charley makes, only because of the choices fate makes. The rides that Charley gets when he is hitch hiking, are crazy in only the way that certain rides can be crazy. This makes sense in the book and becomes beautiful, and cannot be laid at the feet of the kid. The Characters are indelible and real because Vlautin knows how to pull the telling detail out and put it front and center into his main characters vision. Some have compared his style to Raymond Carver but Carver had a alcoholic's dread at the center of his world. Here, at least Vlautin is much bigger hearted. Charley knows how to love, and he has a compass.
Of course it is not all about the style or lit for me. What is it about horses? I still dream of them. The heft of them and their gate underneath me. Of course D.H. Lawrence and every freshman paper talks about their sexual imagery... and I get that...domination of the animal urge and all that. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a horse is just an animal companion. What I first liked about horses was their size relative to mine and their heart beat right at my ear level. Without any gear at all and without too much trouble I could swing up on their back and bounce around on them until they didn't want me there and I pretty much would plop off, There was a natural communication. Then with some gear the communication became more complex and direct, knee pressure, hand pressure, voice and hands on the reins. We became partners working together, chasing cows, or horses. Pulling a pack string up a mountain. It was the rhythm of my days and months of summer and fall, until I came to Alaska. So I won't pretend that some of my appreciation for this book wasn't sentimental. But truth be told there wasn't much riding or horse handling in this book. It's not a book about horsemanship. It's more about the abuse of horses on these two bit tracks, in an interesting nether world that most of us never see.
Dell, the "trainer" is a Bill Sykes character straight out of Dickens, mistreating the orphans under his care and sending those who don't produce down the road to Mexico. He is lurid, but not to the point of caricature because we've all come close to meeting one of his kind in bars or in Tow yards or junk yards. Anywhere men are looking to make something out of nothing. He's there with a spit cup and a six pack. A good old boy, with a good idea and a proposition for you. I love these characters in books too.
Lean on Pete is a wonderful book, but it's probably not for everybody. It's hell for sad almost three quarters of the way through and even the happy ending isn't all that happy by Hollywood standards but it satisfied me completely.
This wasn't a review by the way. I just let my thoughts get away from me. I better get back to it and to the dishes.
George Jones on the radio
and a rusty spring
on the screen door.