Monday, August 20, 2012
The End of the Party: Tapping the Source
I have to admit I read the last two books in our series out of order. The New York Public Library was on top of their game and got me The Dawn Patrol fairly soon after I placed a hold on it, but the post office let me down in the media mail department and Tapping the Source took nearly a week to reach me. Based on what I've read and how I feel generally (more on that later), I've decided to make an executive decision: this will be the last post I'll write in the Beach Noir Book Club.
The Dawn Patrol just isn't up to our high standards. It's not a bad book, and I whipped through it fairly quickly. I found myself enjoying some of its digressions on local history (I learned a lot about San Diego and Pacific Beach) and it was admittedly suspenseful in parts but ultimately a let down, with a cliched scenario and some fairly poorly drawn characters. It was -- and I realize it's slightly ironic for me to use this term here -- a beach read. In the traditional sense of the word.
If you've already bought the book, by all means read it (and feel free to offer to guest post) . You won't want to throw it against the wall or anything. But it won't stay with you.
Tapping the Source, however, will fucking stay with you. Right? If you've read it you know what I mean. Outlandish as certain elements are (e.g. the climactic party scene) their very insanity will make a deep, lasting, impression. If you haven't read it and just know it vaguely as "the book that inspired Point Break," please know the novel is a totally different animal. It's basically as different as In A Lonely Place is from its film adaptation. Except times a million.
I haven't actually seen Point Break, but based on the fact that it didn't receive an NC-17 rating, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there were probably many key differences between these two artifacts. Here are some elements from the novel that I imagine are missing from the movie: incest, mutilation, severed limbs, teenage runaways getting gang banged, murder, maiming, and extreme despair.
Ike Tucker, the book's protagonist and source of this despair, reminds me a bit of some of S.E. Hinton's outsiders; Nunn's writing also has a similarly rough hewed quality. Apparently author Kem Nunn didn't go to college until he turned thirty, and his gritty life experience (surfing, working on boats) breaks through in his prose: repetitions betray a limited vocabulary, descriptions are workmanlike and somewhat coarse, but the dialogue feels realer than real, with surfing lingo so seamlessly interwoven you know Nunn's no poser. It feels like the gut-effort of a prodigy less concerned with style than telling a story, one borne of a desperate emotional urge. Yet the book is no fluke, it can't be -- the mystery is too good. It simply reads like the work of a natural.
The L.A. Times pull-quote in the edition I read compares Nunn to Hammett, Chandler, Raoul Whitfelm, Paul and James M. Cain, Horace McCoy and "yes, Ross Macdonald." I wouldn't go that far, but there are definite similarities to McCoy's They Shoot Horses... in its overall effect of total bleakness, as well as echoes of Macdonald's soul-searching. Every once in a while Tapping the Source goes over the top, but Nunn's spare prose pulls it off.
Mostly I was haunted by the emotionally wraith-like Ike Tucker and his heartbreaking quest for his lost, wild sister. How this character ever got translated into "Johnny Utah" I'll never know.
Perhaps the melancholy that pervaded Tapping the Source got into my head somehow, because when it was done I closed the book and thought, "This is it. Summer is over." In all honesty, I've been leading up to that point for a little while now. Maybe it has something to do with it getting hot so early this year, but I feel like it's been summer for a long time. Certain trees I've seen seem to feel the same way; I've recently spotted both yellow and red leaves fluttering down from their tops these past few weeks. Also the weather feels cooler. And my big beach trip of the summer ended yesterday with a series of signs telegraphing the end of a season. I think it's time to close the book on the summer of 2012. At least on the Beach Noir part of it.... It's been amazing. I've been re-inspired by some of my old favorites by Macdonald and Dorothy B. Hughes, and truly shattered by Horace McCoy. I read a novel I never would've encountered otherwise. And I've learned that I mostly pair hardboiled/noir books with beer, and occasionally gin and tonics.
It's been real. And it's time to let it fade. I'll do so with Nunn's own words:
"He thought of what it must have been like then, beaches like this one scattered up and down the coast like jewels at the edge of the sea. It must have seemed too good to be true, and it must have seemed that it would be that way forever, and yet now it was the wreckage of that dream that lay between them. And he saw too that it was not just Preston and Hound who had lost. He thought of the pier, the crowds fighting for waves, the entire zoo of a town crouched on the sand and what had once passed for hunger and vitality had only a certain desperateness about it now, coked-out fatigue, because they had all lost..."
Now that's beach reading.