Friday, July 8, 2011
TWO-WAY SPLIT by ALLAN GUTHRIE
I want to talk about a book and a writer I recently discovered who's the "real deal," Allan Guthrie.
Recently, Brian Lindenmuth, my editor at Snubnose Press, made a comment about one of my novels, The Bitch, which was a wonderful compliment to it. He said, “I thoroughly enjoyed it and I appreciated that it was a dark novel that ended darkly. So many novels are dark in the telling but pull back at the end, leaving me to shake my head.”
Normally, I wouldn’t insert myself or my own work into the review of another’s work—that smacks of crude and blatant self-promotion--but Brian’s quote so perfectly fit my assessment of Allan Guthrie’s novel, Two-Way Split, I wanted to give him credit and then trust that the reader of this review and Mr. Guthrie himself, wouldn’t take offense at doing so.
Like Brian, I am so often disappointed when reaching the end of a noir or crime fiction when the work takes a major turn and ends with a “Hollywood happy-sappy” finale. You know, where the mass intellect is satisfied that the person they’re rooting for throughout the book didn’t end up in jail or get killed or maimed or something terrible. I always recall what screenwriter Callie Khouri went through with her brilliant screenplay of Thelma & Louise, when the “suits” at the studio wanted to let the two women live at the end—perhaps go off to prison for a few years and then emerge as happy campers. Thank god, Khouri resisted all of that silly nonsense and had Thelma and Louise plunge to their deaths off the Grand Canyon!
And, here we get another writer who doesn’t bow down to the knucklehead mouth-breathers who prefer such sappy endings! You know those folks. They’re the ones who keep that political correctness bullshit going and whose spiritual forebears were responsible in earlier ages for changing the Cinderella story where the evil stepsisters originally cut off their toes to fit the slipper into the insipid and soulless version kiddies are subjected to today. Those folks who don’t like to see much truth in their fiction… Or in their own lives…
Two-Way Split starts out dark, gets even darker, and ends in almost total blackness. Superb! A novel for intelligent readers. Halleluiah! Sharon Sheehe Stark, a brilliant writer who led one of my workshops during one of my MFA residencies at Vermont College put forth to us her very original and against-the-common-herd-mentality of fiction teachers, when she dismissed the prevailing writing theory of creating characters, who promoted the technique of “having your bad guy like kittens,” as a sort of trick to get the reader to like him or her.
Sharon gave contrarian advice. “Paint your character as dark as you possibly can. Don’t make him ‘love kittens’ or any of that crapola. Create a real person who hates cats as much as he hates everything else. Do not fall temptation to giving him any of those ‘saving graces.’ If you do that (and here is her genius), then the light will shine through the cracks.” (Italics mine.)
This is precisely what Guthrie does in his novel. He gives us characters who act honestly, according to their view of life, as flawed as that view may be to those who prefer their characters to end up in AA or forgiving those who trespassed against them. Ain’t happenin’ in Two-Way Split.
And, best of all, this is a novel that is enormously entertaining. The words such as “riveting” and the phrases such as “couldn’t put it down,” or “this was a page-turner,” are overused in assessments like this—many times, undeservedly--but dang it, all of those and more apply to this novel. I couldn’t put it down; it was riveting; it was decidedly a page-turner… and I’ve become a huge, huge fan of Guthrie. This is going to cost me some bucks, as now that I’ve read Two-Way Split, I have to buy the rest of his novels… and he has a few!
I’ll leave it to others to deliver plot points and all that. I just want to get out the message that this is a powerful book and one you’ll thank me for recommending to you. One thing I will mention is the title. It’s one of the great titles in literature. It works on several levels which I won’t reveal. You’ll just have to read it to find that out.
One note about the ending. As you can guess, this isn’t one of those “happy-sappy Hollywood endings.” It is, quite so, one of the best endings I’ve ever read. A good ending represents both a win and a loss. In Thelma & Louise, for example, the “loss” is fairly clear. They die. The win takes a bit more thought, but it’s also clear. The two women achieve their independence from men. Two-Way Split also has a profound win and a profound loss. You’ll have to read it to see. I promise you it’ll be worth it.
I teach creative writing. You can bet I’ll be using this novel in my classes. I’m already using it to inform my own writing.
P.S. Allan Guthrie is a writer, editor and literary agent who lives and creates fantastic fiction in Scotland. I think he wears a kilt and plays bagpipes, but that isn’t confirmed and may just be a stereotype spread by vicious rumors… You can check out Allan Guthrie on his blog and website at http://criminal-e.blogspot.com/ and http://www.allanguthrie.co.uk/