A letter from our friend Richard Wheeler:
I wrote a friend that I had recently finished Elmer Kelton's memoir, Sandhills Boy, which surprised me by being a towering love story; I was reading a delightful bit of historiography called "And a Bottle of Rum: The History of the New World Told in Ten Cocktails." And I had just finished 52 McGs, the best obituaries of Robert McG. Thomas, of the New York Times, which I found compelling, and which introduced me to the art of writing a fine obit.
My friend replied: I like the variety of your reading material. Lately I have returned to some British military history: a biography of Lord Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald, who was, after Nelson, England's greatest naval hero (he served in the Napoleonic Wars, then after being convicted of some fiscal irresponsibility, he sailed off to Chile, became an admiral in their navy, also Peru's, Brazil's and Greece's!) I finished Mencken's three-volume autobiography, Happy Days, Newspaper Days, and Heathen Days -- great joys all, and God bless the printed page!
I replied, How lucky we are, you and I.
Vicki Hendricks is one of the many, many writers I haven't had time to catch up to but I'm glad I finally did. CRUEL POETRY is so drenched in sex and obsession you can work up a sweat before you finish the first chapter. A number of reviewers have compared her to James M. Cain and while I agree with that I'd also compare her particular take to some of the French mainstream writers who came out of the whole Francoise Sagan celebrity in the Fifties, those marijuana and jazz novels about the Parisian underground where few got out alive spiritually. There's even a strain of early Willeford here. But she's all her own person in this story of a woman so alluring at least two people (man and woman) are battling for both her body and soul. What she does best of all is show us how a woman as sexually powerful as Renata can inspire such an admixture of lust and fear in people, not least some of the johns who give her money. And she makes Renata, who could have easily become a parody of the bad girl, beleivable in every way, in every scene. You won't forget this one for a long, long time.