Friday, May 23, 2014


What The Dead Men Say
Ed here: Excellent reviews except for a savage PW.

"For it is my belief no man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape from the grim shadow of self-knowledge."  Joseph Conrad

Ray Sawhill from the much missed high brow low brow  2 Blowhards:

Ed Gorman's "What The Dead Men Say." I've long relished Ed Gorman's work as a short story writer and an anthologist; the man has done more for the cause of short fiction and miscellanies (two forms I adore) than anyone else I know of. More recently I've been a fan of his blog. But -- to my shame -- this 1990 western was the first novel of his that I've read. I'm pleased to report that I found it a knockout. From one point of view, it's merely a lean and trim genre piece. From another, it's remarkable: tough and direct, yet complex and shocking too.
Gorman doesn't violate the Western genre; he doesn't attempt to "do something with it" in the lit-fict sense either. Instead, he applies his brains and gifts to bringing the classic form and the classic elements of the form to bristling life. In other words, the novel is a morality-tale / chessgame involving archetypal characters and situations: the tenderfoot, the sherrif, the showdown, the hooker. His themes are classic too: the relationships between revenge and justice, the unpredictable yet inevitable unspooling of fate, manliness and authority.

As sonnet form seems like anything but a hindrance when it's in the hands of a fluent sonnet-writer, the Western in Gorman's hands seems like an amazingly expressive vehicle. As a piece of construction and writing, the book is terse yet canny, punctuated by rare but effective -- ie., shrewdly-judged -- verbal bursts. Gorman moves the point of view around in unshowy ways that always deepen and heighten, and he keeps injecting little psychological surprises that bump the story's tension level up a notch. The characters may be archetypes, but that doesn't keep them from bursting with persuasive and engaging life.

Gorman also provides enough earthy atmosphere, tang, and wonder for three books. Though its boots may be firmly planted in the muck, this novel makes a few quick visits to the stars. If you were ever curious about what a frontier town smelled like, you'll know by the end of "What The Dead Men Say." Though his characters are anything but thinkers, Gorman's empathy and imagination jogged my brain into contemplation of a surprising number of Larger Questions.

This blunt and methodical book about innocence, justice, and what it means to become a man delivers a real kick, as well as a generous helping of moral complexity and warm-blooded humanity. In its directness, and in its bleak yet charged impact, it reminded me of the renowned literary short stories of Raymond Carver. Me, I like Gorman's work better than Carver's. How great it is to be able to enjoy all that truth and observational juice plus a real story too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ed, whose this Carver guy anyway? :O)