Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Of Mice and Meek Writers

And by "meek" I mean me.

This week the newest book from Stark House Press came out, featuring two classic books by Charles Williams and with a really, really (read: way too) long introduction by me. Here's the problem: I tried to write a piece on Charles Williams of the sort that hadn't been done before. Unfortunately, there's a reason for that--there's just not a lot of information out there.

A Spanish gentleman wrote a biography of Williams some years back. It's out of print but available from overseas but the real problem is that, um, I don't speak Spanish. It has an introduction from Williams' daughter and apparently features correspondence between Williams and Don Congdon, his agent, and I would have really liked to be able to read the words of the man himself. Given enough time, I suppose I could learn, or given enough time and money, I suppose I could pay for a translation, but--you know.

Anyway, as it turns out, Charles Williams is a wonderful writer of suspense and thriller novels. He passed away after killing himself in a somewhat controversial manner. Actually, its only controversial because there were different versions floating around about how he really did it. I obtained a copy of his death certificate to finally get the real answer.

But the problem with the intro for the new book, aside from its grotesque length, is that the nutshell conclusion is that while any individual Williams book is a good one, he repeats elements constantly throughout most of his books. For instance, ninety percent of the time the protagonist is an ex-football player. Why? Who knows. And if he isn't one, his enemy is, or else he's an ex-baseball player. Women have overlapping roles, as well, and at times he tends to was a bit prolix, especially in his earlier novels.

In attempting an honest evaluation of his work, I conclude that if you consider his work as a body, it suffers from the repetition--all too often you know what's going to happen with a certain character or simply that it's distracting to read about yet another ex-football player, etc. Again, read almost any individual book and chances are quite high that you will be very impressed. The issue comes when you read a lot of them (he wrote 22).

Many people seem to wonder why Charles Williams' books are not more well-known, are not more widely available. If David Goodis and Jim Thompson have experienced rediscoveries, why not Charles Williams? When he's good, he's really good. And guess what? He's really good almost all the time.

I think in my attempt at an honest appraisal of his work as a body, I may leave people with an unintended impression, that I have more negative feelings for Charles Williams than I actually do. The fact is, I love the guy's work, have read all of it, some of it multiple times. Did he take shortcuts sometimes? Yes. Did he repeat himself sometimes? Yes, if not often. But is he any the less compulsively readable? Absolutely not. I think that it's just hard to say both of those things in the same introduction and make anybody happy. The piece is probably a fail. Due to its length, an epic fail.

On the other hand, a swing and a miss is still a swing. Given the absence of longer, in-depth pieces on the man and his work, I did what I could. The effort was there, the conclusion (as all conclusions) is debatable, but I can only hope that what I wrote is actually informative and pleasant to read. And if nothing else, it's long. Sometimes the sheer weight of something is enough to be impressive. So I got that going for me.

If anyone out there picks up the book (and you should, because really, Charles Williams was an excellent, excellent writer), please feel free to comment on the introduction. I would be truly interested in any responses. Well, at least the ones that aren't ads for viagra and home refinancing.


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