Saturday, July 30, 2016
GUILLEMO O'JOYCE'S REVIEW OF THE RAPIST
Today, I want to share with you what I consider the finest review of my work ever written, Guillermo O’Joyce’s view of my existential novel, The Rapist.
What makes it what I feel is a brilliant take on my work are two things. First, and foremost, O’Joyce has captured exactly what I intended with this book. I’ve been graced with some wonderful reviews from others and I appreciate them all, but this writer has dug deeper into what I was trying to do more than any other.
Second, what makes this a landmark moment in my writing life, is the reputation of the reviewer. Guillermo O’Joyce is one of the finest writers ever produced in the past century. Although sorely neglected by the literary establishment, O’Joyce is truly a living literary legend.
Space does not allow me to list all of his accomplishments. Just a few include the fact that he has taught with James Dickey, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Saul Bellow, and a list of dozens of the best writers of our lifetimes. He has written a book, that, in my opinion, is the best book I’ve ever read, the profanely genius novel, First Born of an Ass, which was championed and blurbed by Norman Mailer. O’Joyce stands at the very top of the pantheon of great Western writers of all times.
He’s also brutally blunt in his assessment of the state of American letters and it is that forthrightness that has cost him favor with the literary establishment. This is their shame, not his. Read his work and then the work of his critics and it becomes clear that his is a classic case of a host of inferior talent acting out of jealousy toward a writer so far ahead of their second-rate abilities, that it should be embarrassing to them, but, like all those who are possessed of mediocrity, they fail to recognize themselves.
My hope is that someone with cojones among the literary establishment will read his words below and exhibit the kind of bravery that is lacking in many who are in charge of publishing these days and publish this review in a worthy vehicle. He deserves much more recognition than has been afforded him.
I’ve recommended him to my agent, Svetlana Pironko, and one of my publishers, Frank Nowatzki of the German press, Pulpmaster, and both are currently reading his newest work, a Cuban memoir.
Currently, O’Joyce is living in St. Augustine, Florida in near-penury, and is surviving by playing his harmonica in front of restaurants for coins. This is shameful—shameful to the literary establishment who allow one of our greatest writers to subsist this way, when he should be lauded at every turn. True genius always brings out the vitriol of the lesser. All I can say to those who control publishing is that I can only hope some among that bunch recognize the bona fide brilliant talent who lives among us and who possess a vision greater than most. The word “genius” is bandied about far too often and given to many who are undeserving of the title. Guillermo O’Joyce is more deserving than any writer I know of. And, those whose vision is more acute than others are all too often denigrated by those of lesser abilties because of their own sense of failure. Especially toward those who point out their deficiencies. As Einstein once noted, “Adventurous spirits always encounter the violent opposition of mediocre minds.”
I only hope there is someone out there who reads this and recognizes what it is they are reading. And does something to help this literary giant before it’s too late.
Me and Joe Lansdale
I was recently interviewed by Pam Stack on her podcast, "Authors on the Air," and Pam asked me something to the effect of what was my biggest award as an author. My answer is this: More than sales, more than awards, more than anything, my biggest awards have always been the respect of the writers I respect. In the past several months, I've received what I consider my two biggest honors--first, the words from Joe Lansdale when he said: "Les Edgerton has swiftly become my favorite crime writer. Original voice, uncompromising attitude and a pure hardboiled syle leap him to the front ranks of my reading list. He will become legendary." The second and equal to Joe's words, is O'Joyce's review of my best work, which follow.
I give you, Guillermo O’Joyce…
Review of The Rapist
Author: Les Edgerton
Reviewer: Guillermo O’Joyce
July 1st, 2016
Henry Miller once wrote, “If any man dared translate all that is in his heart, to put down what is really his experience, what is truly his truth, I think then the world would to go smash, no accident, no will could ever again assemble the pieces, the atoms, the indestructible elements that have gone to make up the world.”
Such a man has emerged. His name is Les Edgerton. The vehicle for his assault is a fictional character named Truman Pinter, the book has the title The Rapist. The reverberations of his words are so violent and encompassing, the reader becomes as taut and nerve-wracked as the teller of the story after 10 pages.
That is because the reader is directly incriminated as the villain. The reader is left no room to stand. He is cornered with the falsification of his own life. Like Truman, a condemned man awaiting execution for the supposed crimes of rape and murder, the reader is condemned and pinned against the cell bars of unflinching prose. The charges are reversed: by the end of 140 pages the reader is pronounced Guilty of Capitulation.
Let Truman speak: “He (Defiler of Truth) lacks a center—each of you is his center—and he has sucked the marrow dry of each of those he has visited.”
These are the words Truman has held back for 44 years. Now that he is condemned, he is free to fire away. Edgerton’s hope is that a few humans who are not legally condemned but feel trapped by his words will begin to speak from their conscience. Right now the world is devoid of conscience and consciousness. The timing for such a book is perfect.
Truman’s real crime is that he has remained separate. He has inherited money and doesn’t have to work. Until he meets the town trollop, he is a virgin. It is this separateness that gets him labeled and condemned to die. Humans have a great fear of The Loner, The Outsider. They fear he may know something they don’t. Therefore, they must kill him. Richard Wright’s Native Son was originally entitled The Outsider. Native Son is one of the few books that can match The Rapist for sustained tension. But just as Wright’s voice is labeled “Black Protest”, The Rapist is under lock and key as a “crime novel”. You can’t sell anything on this Earth unless it is grouped under a fashionable label. And we wonder why there is murder all around us????
There is no self-righteousness to Truman Pinter. Just before his execution he realizes that this detachment which he thinks gives him freedom, has paradoxically made him a slave. He says, “Those who cared did something about the situation they disliked. I had simply let things happen and taken the consequences, good or bad. Therefore, I relinquished control and in doing so gave up any claim to freedom.” He is as unsparing with his own life as he is with the props of western civilization.
Yet, Truman is not to be dismissed as a misguided rebel. A prison guard says about him, “I think that you’re some kind of genius that doesn’t belong anywhere.” About this pronouncement, Truman remarks, “In his straightforward way, he had cut through the subterfuge and claptrap and identified the truth.”
Now the word “genius” is as overused as the phrase “cutting edge.” The dictionary says, “one who is exceptionally intelligent or creative,” a sure sign the experts of language are just as lost as prison wardens. When it comes to people who combine great talent, faith in their intuition, discipline, and courage to chart their own direction, the arbiters of culture have no idea what to do with them. They don’t fit any previous pattern; their works resist labeling; their lives seem a mess; they are difficult to deal with. They are simply on another wave length.
This is true of Edgerton and his creation, Truman. Yet, Truman spirals off and becomes much more than a mouthpiece; he becomes an independent voice, one that will haunt the sleep of readers with the guts to hear him out.
In designing Truman, Edgerton had the wisdom to make him completely unattractive. He fits none of the formulas for an engaging human being. His personality has no color. He doesn’t play the fiddle nor show any interest in being an artist. He espouses no causes, political nor religious. He is pompous, conceited, and a bit of a boor in the first 12 pages. Until he is sentenced, he is without conviction.
However, Truman is not a complete blank. He was nursed in a rocking chair until he was 6. His father left when he was 5. He does have a degree from Princeton, a fact which only gets him in trouble with the warden, also a Princeton graduate. The warden cannot fathom a condemned man who hasn’t been underprivileged. Until the run-in with the town trollop, he’s done little but fish, observe, and read. Yet, books have meant little to him. Oh, he’s done one other thing, he’s masturbated. Often. He’s dribbled away the constant tension he feels between himself and the rest of the race.
What Truman can do is see and hear clearly and then express himself from his conscience. In a marvelous bit of discipline on Edgerton’s part, he doesn’t allow Truman to indulge in any rhetoric of castigation. Truman simply addresses his situation, as it arises, in brief one and two paragraph responses and it is all like a hidden song from the core of the earth. It is a reminder of Edgerton’s one relative, Arthur Rimbaud, who wrote in 1872, “I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.”
As an example of the reverberations of Truman I will cite one: beans. Beans are fed to prisoners because they are the cheapest of all foodstuffs. Says Truman, “The warden has an allowance for our food and if he can save money from his allotted budget, he’s allowed to keep the savings for himself.” To add to the fun, merchants put gravel in the beans to up the weight and collect more money. Truman bites down on a bean and busts a molar. His entire story is told with a toothache.
Parochial enough, you say. Yet is there a single product we can buy that hasn’t been tampered with? That hasn’t been shot full of hormones, laced with pesticides, left to the vagaries of some cantankerous machine, the negligence of some bitter foreman? Defects on new cars kill almost as many people as the Diaper Heads do yet not a single CEO has ever been put on trial. Still, no student is allowed in a college classroom without his assurance that he will be a good consumer.
This then is a book of revolt.
The need to revolt is implicit in every line.
That’s what gives The Rapist its superhuman tension.
If books could be measured by what they provoke, this book of Edgerton’s would top the list. It’s going to enrage people because they’re going to realize the hypocrisy by which they gained their food and shelter was nothing more than honoring a host of killing machines which absolutely denied the existence of the spirit of creation.
Now we are back to the Son of Moloch which begins The Rapist—“He lies down with all members of the congregation equally.” Most adults will try to block out its message; they’re not going to relinquish 30 or 40 years of gaining a precarious foothold within a teetering civilization. Better to be a zombie with something to eat than a gaping worm behind a bush, pleading for a bowl of beans.
But there’s one group that’s going to take The Rapist to heart precisely because they haven’t been indoctrinated by the realities. That’s 15-year-olds across the U.S., Europe, and Japan. They’ve experienced enough of the killing machines to doubt their legitimacy. They quite rightly suspect that they’re soon going to end up in a uniform, holding a rifle, and dropped on their pubescent heads from an airplane into a country whose name they can’t pronounce. They are largely male and owing to another war that goes untalked about, they can’t get laid. They’re going to glance at Truman’s persistent whacking away and declare, “Not me!”
Then watch out! All that pubescent energy backed up, searching for an object for their wrath. That they will find their way to The Rapist is problematic unless some bitter but adventurous philanthropist buys up copies and passes them out on the street advancing on a schoolyard.
Unlikely, you say. Hah! No more unlikely than the miracle of The Rapist whose knife-edge I lay in your hands now.
--Guillermo O’Joyce, Author, Don’t Do It Standing Up, Recorder of Births and Deaths: Stories, First Born of an Ass, For Women who Moan, Listen, America, You Don’t Even Own Your Name, and Miller, Bukowski and Their Enemies, among others.
Thank you for reading O’Joyce’s review. I hope it affected you and showed you what a truly great writer is capable of on the page.