Saturday, May 2, 2009

Catching Up #29: The Walkaway by Scott Phillips

The Walkaway, Scott Phillips's sequel to his kick-ass debut The Ice Harvest, somehow manages to be both fucking epic and intensely intimate at the very same time. It's a huge, sprawling book with a large cast of characters, many viewpoints, and two timelines running parallel to each other, but it's really only about three hundred pages long and the action within covers only a few days in both of said timelines. It seems to have a shit ton of exposition and charcter backstory, but somehow you don't notice any of that shit as you're blasting through the fucker. The crime story itself isn't fully revealed until you're almost done with the book, but you could give a shit because you're having so much fun watching it all unfold, hanging out with all the different characters.

In other words, Scott Phillips is a fucking born storyteller and The Walkaway is a great fucking story.

As with my review of The Ice Harvest, I'm not gonna get too deep into the plot because the joy in reading the novel is discovering just what the fuck the plot is exactly, to make guesses based on the little bits of information Phillips drops throughout the text only to find out later you were dead fucking wrong.

So. Fucking briefly: It's 1989 and Gunther Fahnsteil has wandered away from the dementia wing of his nursing home in search of...well, he can't really remember. Something about misplacing something at a quarry years ago, something like that. Meanwhile, his family and friends are also looking for him, some of them in hopes of nabbing the twelve grand reward Gunther's son-in-law Sidney has posted with flyers across Wichita.

While all this is going on, Phillips is also telling the story of Wayne Ogden's return from occupied Japan to Wichita in 1952. Wayne is an out-and-out bastard who was involved in some shady gangster shit back in Japan before stealing the identity of one of his superiors and lamming it back to Wichita to make some dough and settle some scores. That is, if officers Gunther Fahnsteil and Ed Dieterle don't fuck up his plans too much.

Everybody in Phillips's Wichita seems to either be on the take or burdened by huge secrets, and finding out what those schemes and secrets are over the course of the novel is a major part of the story's charm. Not until the end do you fully know the connection between the two separate timelines - a neat trick that most storytellers would have neither the patience nor the confidence to pull off so fucking masterfully.

Oh shit! Did I mention that on top of all that, The Walkaway is fucking hilarious? I was - no shit - that douche at the coffee shop who couldn't help but laugh out loud while reading silently to himself. Unlike your average "that douche" though, I wasn't holding a Pynchon novel at face level so that everyone could see that I totally "get" the humor in V. One of my favorite exchanges is this shit right here:

"You ever go out to the dog track?" he asked the counterman.
"Nope. In my church we don't believe in games of chance."
"Dog racing's not a game of chance. It's who the fastest dog is. Nothing random about it."
"It's gambling."
"Yeah, but you're betting on your own handicapping skills."

I should just let that shit speak for itself but in case you didn't notice, the dialogue in The Walkaway is pretty fucking sharp as well.

So don't be like the old Nerd of Noir, that lame-ass who had never read Scott Phillips before. Be like the new and improved Nerd, the one who is now admittedly a little sad (Haha! What a pussy!) that he has only one more book, Cottonwood, to go before he's officially caught the fuck up with Scott Phillips.


Ed said...

I think Cottonwood is the masterpiece. Scott's really one of the best novelists out there right now.

Dennis T said...

Loved The Walkaway! If you haven't read it, you also have to find a copy of the first Murdaland, which has Scott's story, "The Emerson, 1950." Fucking amazing.