Sunday, 13 January 2013

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin

I read Willy Vlautin’s Lean on Pete recently. It’s well written and has some of the same qualities of The Motel Life though not quite as realized in terms of inscape which was Hopkins’ term for that mysterious quality of perception that allows us to enter into the heart of things. Narration is a gift that Vlautin has. He’s a musician in a band as well and one can imagine in the bus the paused hush as he begins a story which will be not overcooked and not overchewed. They are brisk and I think probably depend on those stock images which we have of American life, the trailer park, the tract house, the degraded environment of the inner city. There is no need to describe, no need to pause, a visual library gives us all we need to know. To continue the metaphor to the point of collapse those images have a million date stamps on them and are beginning to fall apart.

It’s not so much the detail as the telling detail. Dickens’s readers all knew about slums and had read many a tract about dens of vice and corruption. Tom-all-Alone’s as a terminus has its own special stink:

Jo lives—that is to say, Jo has not yet died—in a ruinous place known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone's. It is a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants who after establishing their own possession took to letting them out in lodgings. Now, these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch vermin parasites appear, so these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards; and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in; and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever and sowing more evil in its every footprint than Lord Coodle, and Sir Thomas Doodle, and the Duke of Foodle, and all the fine gentlemen in office, down to Zoodle, shall set right in five hundred years—though born expressly to do it.
(Bleak House)

They’re going to make a movie out of Lean on Pete. It will be o.k. because it’s going back to being a movie but sometimes more is more.

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