Thursday, October 23, 2008

CATCHING UP #9: CITIZEN VINCE by JESS WALTER

With the election just days away, now is the perfect time to pick up Jess Walter's Citizen Vince, a crime novel about the importance of the right to vote. I know what you're thinking my friends (election humor), "A crime novel about hopeful shit like voting? The fuck?" Well my friends (I'll stop now), if you skip this one you'll be missing out on some of the best dialogue not penned by Elmore Leonard or Charlie Huston, and a plot that unravels with the organic ease of a Pelecanos novel.

We meet donut baker Vince Camden a week before the 1980 election in Spokane, Washington as he bakes donuts, deals pot, makes fake IDs and runs a credit card scam. He's also juggling two women, a neurotic prostitute and a book smart donut shop customer that he pines for. It's a quiet life but Vince makes it work.

But then Ray Sticks had to arrive in town and fuck it all up.

You see, Vince Camden's name is in witness protection after some bad debts left him in deep with the New York mob, forcing him to cut a deal with the FBI. Well, it seems the FBI didn't do a good enough job because if Ray Sticks after you, that means the mob is sending out their very best to do you in. After he narrowly escapes from Sticks, Vince catches a plane to New York in an effort to figure out who sent Sticks after him.

It's a good old-fashioned crime story, a lot like something Leonard might write, but what really makes Citizen Vince hum is it's sense of place and connection to the presidential election. Some surprising historical characters pop up in this book (I won't spoil it) and it's not just a stunt - no, it actually makes perfect sense that they would be involved in this story at this time in our history. And then there's the on-going election campaigns that keep getting mention in this novel. Again, this is not just a device, "the vote" is essentially what Citizen Vince is all about.

You see, before he went in the program, Vince was a felon and therefore not allowed to vote. Now, despite all the crazy violent shit going on around him, the need to vote, to be normal, to count, is the most important thing on his agenda. How Walter pulls these scenes off without making you gag from sentimentality, how he makes you feel a glimmer of hope for the process - it's just something to fucking awe.

Boils down to this, my friends (sorry, I can't get over how lame that is): Read Citizen Vince and you might just believe in what you write on the ballot this November.

1 comment:

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