Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five best: tales of dislocation

Jerome Charyn is the author of Johnny One-Eye, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, and The Seventh Babe, a novel about a white third baseman on the Red Sox who also played in the Negro Leagues.

His latest book is Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil.

For the Wall Street Journal, Charyn came up with a list of the five best tales of dislocation. One title on the list:
The Big Knockover
by Dashiell Hammett (1966)

The character known as the Continental Op is Dashiell Hammett's most startling creation, even if we are never told his name. Like Sam Spade and Nick Charles, he's a private detective, but he has none of their allure. He appears in Hammett's earliest short stories, collected by Lillian Hellman in "The Big Knockover." The Op is "a nervous little fat man," relentless and alone. His boss sends him out "to be crucified on suicidal jobs." But the Op doesn't really solve cases—he stirs up trouble. Raymond Chandler once said that Hammett, starting with the Continental Op, took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the gutter. But Hammett also had a Venetian vase, and that was the relentless poetry of his prose, where bullets rip through walls "with the sound of hail tapping on leaves" and a man lies dead-still, "a thin worm of blood" crawling out of his hair.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue