Monday, March 16, 2009

The Church of MNW

As you will all know, The Last Free City is with Macmillan at the moment, while my editor decides if it's right for them. You might view it as disingenuous in this context to review, very favourably, two MNW titles acquired by that selfsame editor. The fact is that L.C. Tyler's A Very Persistent Illusion and Doug Worgul's Thin Blue Smoke are both such very fine novels that they are sure to attract the attention of readers who do not have a vested interest in keeping their editor sweet.

Len Tyler is one of my favourite Macmillan New Writers: more to the point, he's one of my favourite writers, full stop. He lists P.G. Wodehouse among his favourite writers, and his highly distinctive voice is reminiscent of Wodehouse on a very, very heavy dose of downers. A Very Persistent Illusion is the kind of book for which the much-abused term "black comedy" was coined. His narrator, Chris Sorenson, is at once dislikeable while embodying many of the characteristics we will recognise in ourselves. His unusual pathology plays out to an unexpected ending with a sureness of touch and a facility with the devastating one-liner which will be familiar to readers of The Herring Seller's Apprentice. If your taste in humour runs to the dark, this is the book for you.

The humour in Thin Blue Smoke is of a different stamp. Worgul takes a wry look at a beautifully realised ensemble cast, refracted through the lenses of barbecue, blues, baseball and bourbon. Of these, barbecue is closest to the book's heart, and LaVerne, ex-baseball star and barbecue philosopher, is an offbeat and pleasantly flawed hero. At one point he discusses the essence of barbecue with another character (it's that kind of book), and they conclude that barbecue is the art of taking the worst cuts of meat, and transmuting them slowly over a low heat, making them into something wonderful. Worgul does something similar with his characters: poor, disadvantaged or alcoholic they may be, but over the course of this marvellous novel he smokes them until they too, turn into lives which fascinate and move us. A novel as quintessentially American (just what is a "pulled chuck"?) as A Very Persistent Illusion is British, Thin Blue Smoke deserves to be a huge success.

One of the things I really do like about Macmillan New Writing (aside from the fact that they publish me, of course) is the sheer variety of the titles they put out. Considering MNW only publishes twelve titles a year (it really is a small press hidden inside PanMacmillan), the breadth of output is remarkable. I can never read titles like the two above without that old genre writer's inferiority complex kicking in at some level: MNW publish fantasy, too! And my fantasy at that... Maybe reading two such accomplished MNW titles just after I've submitted my own was not such a good idea after all. Those not in that singular position need not hesitate, and should get hold of these two excellent novels immediately.

1 comment:

David Isaak said...

I'm not in that singular position, but I oughta be by now.