Monday, September 06, 2010

THE WALK by Lee Goldberg

I once said that I "bought" Lee Goldberg's novel THE WALK for Five Star Books. Not so. What I did was recommend that they buy it. It had to go through the usual process. The Tekno editor had to read it and approve it then the Thorndike editor had to read it and approve it. Everybody in both offices loved it. I mention this so you'll know that I did play a hand in the book's publication.

Then and even more now that I've read it again I feel it's a book far richer than most suspense novels. The main story here is that Los Angeles is struck with The Big One it's been dreading for a century. Imagine that most expensive disaster movie ever made and you'll have an idea of what the city looks like.

Marty Slack is the protagonist, a TV executive whose largest burden is being himself. As much as he resents and hates the grasping, greedy, treacherous people at the top of the TV ladder, he has to reluctantly admit to himself, in the course of his journey to reach home after being stranded miles away, that he is an awful lot like them. Slack is a character we get to know as well as we know people in the best of mainstream novels. Goldberg gives us a real live person here. And he doesn't cheat. We come to like Slack but there are moments when we see him as shallow, selfish and even pompous. But he's fascinating because he's so well detailed.

The journey home is a quest. There are scenes of people dying that make you look away from the page. There's nothing he can do for a woman trapped under rubble. He has to walk away and let her die. He has to go a ways before her screams for help fade. Then there are scenes as insane (and comic) as anything in Philip K. Dick as when he runs into "Kent Beaudine, King of Stock Footage." Then there is the traveling companion he doesn't want, a man named Buck who is trying to sell a him a TV series based on his own life. Buck you see is a combination of Rambo, John Wayne and just about every beer tavern psycho you've ever met. But curiously Buck, as we learn in the course of the novel, is also a teacher. There are many fine serio-comic scenes with him.

And then there's Marty Slack's marriage. This storyline is another example of what I mean about Goldberg pushing against genre boundries. This isn't just a cliche portrait of a marriage in trouble. This, and at some length, is the dissection of two people who've realized that their marriage may be beyond repair. The scenes of recrimination, rage, despair hurt to witness. Beth Slack is just as painfully real as Marty Slack.

Finally there is the storyline about historical LA and it's just as funny as the exchanges between Marty and Buck. LA is taken apart here with a scalpel, hitting the pretentions of a city that has always tried too hard to seem superior to New York.

This is a magnificent novel--by turns hilarious, scary, sad, witty and ultimately wise on its judgments about the way so many of us live these days. And it's one hell of a page-turner, too.

3 comments:

Richard S. Wheeler said...

You sure make me want to read it.

Lee Goldberg said...

Ed,

I'm sure that THE WALK would never have been published without your enthusiastic recommendation to the editors...and I could probably say the same about THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE. And they both remain the two books that I am most proud of out of all the books that I have written. Thank you so much for this review...and for all the support that you've given me.

Lee

Ed Gorman said...

My pleasure, Lee. Your two favorites are both extraordinary novels.