Saturday, November 01, 2008

Frederic Brown

Yes, I had an epiphany last night. Honest. I was re-reading one of my favorite Fredric Brown novels, The Deep End, and I realized suddenly why I've always felt such a spiritual closeness to his crime fiction.

I had a paper route when I was twelve and thirteen. I delivered in the neighborhood where I lived, a working class quadrant of the small city packed with bars. The men and women in the bars always liked to treat to me a bottle of pop or a game of shuffleboard or pool. We were all Micks from the same parish.

I can't say I got to know any but a few of them personally. But I did have an understanding of them as an aggregate, especially the men who were in their twenties, their fates already sealed by families, lack of college education and, in most cases, a compliance with the wishes of the gods (Lovecraft's gods to my mind).

The bar was their escape. My favorite bar was part of a seedy hotel. The owner liked hillbilly music and he put all of Elvis' Sun records on it as early as 1955 before Elvis was widely known. Same with Johnny Cash. A very cool place.

I overheard stories. Men fighting with their wives; men stepping out on their wives; men who couldn't pay their bills and were heavy into loan companies already. Some of the men blue collar, some of men lower-echelon white collar. There were fights sometimes; wives occasionally appeared and hauled their humiliated husbands out of the places. The great tragedy was the much-decorated Marine who'd fought in Korea. Popular high school basketball player, happy hard-working good looking guy who was crazy about his wife and brought her in frequently, lovely frail Irish girl-woman. He got killed in a highway accident and his wife (true facts) set herself on fire in grief.

Lives significant only to them and their kind (my kind).

And while I was reading The Deep End last night (a novel so redolent of Fifties morality it could be used in a sociology text book, even though it takes enormous liberties with the sexual mores of the time, the love affair here a knockout) I realized that I like Brown so much (I was already reading him back then) because he wrote about my neighborhood and my people. Most of his crime novels, I know now, are filled with the men and women in the bars on my old paper route.

I keep hearing about how Brown's Coming Back. I sure hope that's true.


Peter Rozovsky said...

I missed the '40s, or at least I thought I had until I read The Fabulous Clipjoint.
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

Tom Piccirilli said...

Glad you mentioned THE DEEP END, Ed. It's rarely mentioned or even noticed when compared to FCJ or The Screaming Mimi or The Far Cry, etc., but it was my first Brown and it holds a special place in my heart. As you suggested, Brown had that wonderful capacity for making us feel welcome in his settings, no matter how seedy or underbelly they were.