Penning Some Good Popular Fiction!
SB Alec Hastings
Here’s the thing. The Quiet Game is popular fiction. Now before you think I’m being a snob, I happen to like popular fiction. In fact, this book has two points in its favor right off the bat. One is that author Greg Iles is part of a rock band called the Rock Bottom Remainders (yeah… remainders… as in books that didn’t sell). And you guessed it, they’re all writers! According to their website, Dave Barry and Stephen King are members too. Dave Barry said, “We play music as well as Metallica writes novels.” Kirk Hammet, of Metallica said, “Rock Bottom Remainders? Who are they?” Okay, so they’re not great, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that three of my favorite authors, King, Iles, and Barry are rock musicians. There’s a cosmic link there somewhere, I just don’t know what it is. As to the second point… I’m a sexagenarian, and I’ve already forgotten it! No, now I remember (sixty hours later)–to my knowledge none of Iles’ books sport a prestigious medal like the National Book Award. As Remainders’ band member Joel Selvin said, “Most people seem to think critics are as useful as tits on a priest.” Okay, I’m joking, a little, but I’ve read some books with blue ribbons that were pretty bad. Sometimes it seems like they have to glow radioactively with angst, black despair, and good people dying before they can be assigned to the top shelf.
I know, I know, I haven’t actually said anything about The Quiet Game yet. You’re probably thinking all this random nonsense is about as useful as judging a book by its cover (I do that, too). Well, hey, I think all information may serve some purpose. It’s just like my grandfather said about the jar of bent nails I held up as we were cleaning out his cellar… “You never know when something like that will come in handy.” I’m trying to give you the appetizers here; we’ll sit down to the entree soon enough. Anyway, I do like some “literature.” For example, Anthony Doerr’s book, All the Light We Cannot See was the bomb (not a good metaphor for a World War II novel, but still… it was)! That said, I’ve read some “literature” lately, books with medals on the covers, that sent me running to the toilet. Sorry, maybe that’s too graphic.
If you give me a choice between a book that has literary merit and one that has good storytelling, I’ll ask you to give me one that has both (like All the Light!), but if you won’t do it, I’ll ask for the one with the good storytelling. I admit it. I’m low-brow. I’ve got orbital ridges like a Neanderthal. I leave it to smarter people than me to say whether The Quiet Game has any literary merit, but I will say this, it’s a ripping good story! Iles, like Stephen King, knows his way around plots, cagey heroes (cagey? you’ll get it…), sexy, spunky heroines, villains that make me grind my teeth, and a host of other characters who take interesting shape with a few, deft brush strokes of the pen (sorry, mixed a metaphor). This is one of a series of Penn Cage novels. Penn was once a district attorney in Texas, then a novelist, and by the time of The Quiet Game, he has returned to his parents’ home in Natchez, Mississippi to help his daughter recover from the death of her mother. He hopes for a “quiet” time, but instead he gets entangled in the investigation of a Civil Rights Era murder.
There’s something I like in addition to the suspenseful plot and engaging characters, and that’s the milieu of the South. I don’t know anything about it. I’ve never lived there. I’ve lived in Vermont, the most homogeneous state in the U.S. It’s really interesting to read about a town in Mississippi, and about the blacks and whites living in that town. It seems–to this outsider–that Iles knows his people well. He doesn’t hide the conflict that exists between some blacks and some whites. He doesn’t hide the conflict between some whites and some other whites or between some blacks and some other blacks. He doesn’t hide the respect that exists between individual members of the races either. It doesn’t stretch my belief to think that fictional Penn Cage’s father cared equally for whites and blacks during his lifelong career as a physician in Natchez. It does stretch my mind to rub fictional shoulders with blacks and whites in a town that, a little over a 150 years ago, was a slave-holding center of the Deep South, but only because it’s so foreign to me. I kind of like stretching my mind that way. It’s one of the things I love about reading whether I’ve got a work of literature or just a darn good story. I like that stretch, that chance to see people and a part of the world I may never see on my own. Thanks, Greg Iles. I’d like to hear the Rock Bottom Remainders. Do you ever come to Vermont? Your friend, Alec Hastings.
Also recommended by SB Alec One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow, Last Bus to Wisdom.