Saturday, January 13, 2007

Terrill Lankford's brilliant overlooked novel

I have about a dozen novels I keep on a shelf to the right of my desk. The writers include Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Nathaniel West, Dorothy Parker, O'Hara, and about half a dozen contemporary novels. I keep these there as vitamins for when style and lucidity wane in my own work. In the truest sense I derive inspiration from reading twenty-five pages or so of them.

Lately I find that the novel I pick up most often is Earthquake Weather by Terrill Lee Lankford which, in some respects, is an amalgam of Fitzgerald-West-O'Hara.

The falsely accused protagonist is nothing new but set against natural disaster in the bowels (in all respects) of the movie industry you have something completely fresh, especially when he's presented in language as powerful and lyric and spot-on true as Lankford is able to summon here. The pace is as relentless as the people and the noir effects are born not of standard noir tropes but of the world today, a new kind of noir where Bush, infomercials, special effects movies, trash TV and street gangs are the noises you hear rather the the somber trumpet of traditional noir. There are moments when you think you're reading Philip K. Dick.

The novel works perfectly on three levels--as an insider novel work novel about present day Hollywood; as a dark driven story about the Wrong Man; and as a Westian portait of a man in the final stages of spiritual disintegration. It's the final level that sets this book apart from the flavors-of-the-month and the overwrought neo-noirs of our time. Finally the book is about a man who is a victim of himself and those he's chosen to surround himself with. This is the theme of a good deal of classical literature and Lankford seems well aware of that on every page of the book.

Yes, it was well reviewed. I think it even appeared on a few Best of The Year lists. But given its worth, it passed, in hard and soft appearances, without sufficient note.

It's easily available on abe and alibris. Do yourself a great favor and order it now.


Unknown said...

I have to agree with you, Ed. Both EARTHQUAKE and its sequel, BLONDE LIGHTNING, are essential reading. Lee's a goddamned national treasure.

Unknown said...

Ditto. These books didn't nearly the ink they deserved.

James Reasoner said...

Amen. Two of the best books by anybody in recent years, and the other Lankford novel I've read, ANGRY MOON, ain't too shabby, either. I have only one by him that I haven't read, SHOOTERS, and I'm almost afraid to because I don't know when there'll be another.

Vince said...

Yeah! What they said.

Anonymous said...

Ed, your comments - and those of the four fine writers who appear above - make a man feel truly humble. Good reviews are one thing, accolades from peers you respect and admire provide a vetting of one's efforts that cannot be measured. To paraphrase you from one of your earlier posts, this is one of the unexpected "real rewards" of doing what we do.

Thanks, guys!