Monday, September 21, 2009

Doen these trippy streets

Reading Jedediah Berry's The Manual of Detection was so enjoyable that it behooves me to talk about it. It also makes me envious that Berry wrote this before anyone else did. Hero Charles Unwin is a sheltered clerk who edits the cases of a two-fisted detective into proper form for the archives. He gets an unwanted promotion to detective himself when (palindrome alert) Travis T Sivart goes missing. Beyond that I don't want to say much.

But the telling of this story is informed by dreams and fairy tales. It's appropriate that the speakeasy where Unwin must trawl for clues is called the Cat and Tonic. (Say it aloud.) There are a lot of influences at play here: German expressionism, film noir, Calvino. Sort of like if Thomas Ligotti scripted The Big Sleep, although that only takes you so far. But really the important thing is how the elements are jumbled as if by an unconscious mind.

What the New Yorker reviewer was thinking I don't know. A 9/11 allegory? Berry may well have been influenced by living through the War on Terror and the PATRIOT act. But reducing it to simple political allegory takes you far away from what Berry is doing. I mean, find a new buzzword already.


susan said...

Okay, you sold me on it. Thank goodness Powell's isn't too far away but then again, Amazon delivers :-)

Ben said...

I don't think you'll be disappointed. There's a carnival run by an evil genius in this book, and what can I say? Halls of mirrors, knife-throwers: he found a place for just about all of it.