You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Small CrimesSmall Crimes by Dave Zeltserman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Guy gets out on parole, returns to his small, Vermont hometown, and doesn't want any trouble. Of course seven years before he was a crooked cop, cocaine addict, compulsive gambler, and he stabbed the local D.A. thirteen times in the face with a letter opener. He did a lot of reading in prison, but apparently he didn't make to You Can't Go Home Again. And how do you get paroled after seven years in County Jail when you've stabbed the D.A. thirteen times in the face with a letter opener? How do you get time in County Jail for that matter.? This is a story of corruption.

Joe Denton is the perfect unreliable narrator. He really doesn't want any of this to be happening, and he thinks of himself as a fundamentally good person. You would think that the fact his parents don't want him in their house would clue him in that others do not have so generous a view of him. Only a few hours into his parole Joe is told he can murder either one of two people if he wants to stay alive himself. And that he has three days to payback a $30,000 gambling debt. (He's getting a break on the interest.)

The novel takes place in four days, and it is compulsively readable. The portrait of corruption is convincing and there is only one coincidence, which I guess is permissible even if it is of Dickensian proportions.  Zeltserman also uses a narrative trick at the end familiar to readers of Jim Thompson.

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