Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Inner Circle by Jonathan Fast

This novel came along shortly after the books of Stephen King launched the horror boom. If its storyline owes anything to a classic horror writer it's Robert Bloch. A) Because it concerns a diabolical plot that spans most of the last century and B) Because it's steeped in Holywood lore, this time circa 1979.

Louis Pinkle is a Los Angeles magazine writer who is peddling a screenplay every chance he gets. When his old friend and mega TV star Tony Valenti shows up at his apartment one night pleading to stay and insisting that somebody is trying to kill him, Pinkle manages to ease him out the door. Pinkle wakes up to read in the paper of his wealthy friend's death in an automobile accident. He of course believes that it was no accident at all.

Why I've enjoyed reading this book several times since its publication is not so much the plot, which works very well, but rather its grace notes, its rich human observations and the way Fast makes loopy LA architecture a real part of the story.

"There's a malady I call Dr. Chauvinism that everybody suffers from: my Dentist is The Best Dentist in New York City; the surgeon who did my uncle Murray's surgery is the best Surgeon on the East Coast..."

"I was going through a dry spell at the time, six or seven months without a woman. Celibacy in the East isn't isn't so bad, but out here in the West where the sun superheats your skin and the women walk around half or three-quarters naked, and every
billboard displays vast vistas of flawless flesh, it's worse."

"Once he said to me, `Kitty, are you scared of dying?' And I said, `Yes, I suppose I am. I've never thought about it much.' And he said, `Kitty, that's why I write so much. I think if I leave enough paper with my name on it, people will have to remember me after I'm dead.'"

Then there's a beautifully done scene when a detective visits the badly beaten Pinkle in the hospital. Now there are a lot of ways to write this scene but I've never read one like this before.

"I'll make this as brief as possible, Mr. Pinkle."

Asks him name, birth date, profession. After profession, cop says: "What do you think of Saul Bellow?"


"What's your opinion of his work?"

"I...I like it."

"But don't you think the Nobel prize should have gone to Graham Greene?"

"Maybe." His voice became animated and he began to gesture with his hands, enormous hands with black hairs on the back.

"What I mean is, Bellow is basically a photographer like Roth and many of the other modern Jewish writers. His prose is marvelously descriptive, but does he have anything to say?"

"I don't know. Does he?"

(Turns out the cop is in a writing class and offers to "share" his short stories with Pinkle.)

I was laughing out loud when I read this because when we were in a clinic one day waiting for the results of a test a doc came in with said results but decided that since I'd written writer for my occupation we'd do a little book chatting first. Carol finally said: "How did the test come out?"

I just like this book. I like the voice and I like the slant on life and I like the people. Fast wrote a number of science fiction novels in addition to this and then gave up fiction for teaching. Our loss. He had the touch.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Got it! Thanks!

Todd Mason said...

I hadn't realized that was why Fast seemed to disappear from the literary scene...rather like Philip "William Tenn" Klass. That is too bad, but at least he might be doing good work, as Klass did...good short fiction, too.