Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Les Edgerton's THE RAPIST

Meeting and chatting with Les Edgerton at Bouchercon in Albany prompted me to get around to reading a book I’d been meaning to pick up for months.  That book?  Edgerton’s THE RAPIST, which I’d heard and read so much about since it came out several months ago.

Well, it’s always nice when a book lives up to the praise you’ve heard lavished upon it…..and then some!

THE RAPIST is about Truman Ferris Pinter.  Pinter sits on death row for the brutal rape he has committed, and the death he seemingly caused his victim.  Pinter tells his story himself, and for the entire length of this astounding novella we sit squarely in Truman's mind, as twisted and cold a mind as one is likely to come across anywhere.  He’s a man utterly without remorse for his actions, but he also happens to be very well-read and articulate.  He lets us know in no uncertain terms  that he has his reasons for what he did.  THE RAPIST takes us on a tour through his convoluted mind, and through his twisted perceptions, we begin to understand his life, and damn if this utter sociopath makes us see things (at least a little) from his point of view.

 Absolute brilliance is the only way I can describe this book. You could call it a noir novel, but I'd say it's more firmly in the tradition of works like Camus' THE STRANGER or Ernesto Sabato's THE TUNNEL or Walker Percy's LANCELOT. The novel as existential monologue told by an unrepentant criminal. Edgerton himself said that a prime inspiration for the novel came from the Charles Bukowski story "The Fiend", which is about a man raping a little girl. Except that in "The Fiend", as Edgerton put it, even Bukowski pulled back a bit, forgoing his usual first person narration to tell the story in the third person. In other words, Bukowski didn't handle this material head on; Edgerton dares to.

THE RAPIST also brings to mind Dostoyevsky's NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND and (I do not say this blithely) Nabokov's LOLITA. Truman Ferris Pinter is even darker in his personality than Humbert Humbert, but the brilliance and audacity he uses language with, to convince himself and us of certain things, is quite like Humbert. How reliable is this narrator? And Truman, like Humbert, can be, shall we say, not entirely self-aware. There is a house of mirrors quality to this novel that is quite Nabokovian. And as in LOLITA, we get inside the mind of someone almost everyone would consider despicable, and if we don't, well, like him, we certainly understand him. Then there's the Borges influence, the mind-bending what is real what is dream what is real aspect of the book.   In a way completely appropriate to Truman, the novel ends in a manner that reminded me of Borges’s great story “The South.”  I really can’t say much more than that or I’ll be giving too much away.  Suffice it to say, the ending is perfect, the last line a dinger that sums up Truman and reduced me to dark dark laughter.

This is a memorable book, a tough uncompromising book, a book that in the very best way calls upon a great literary tradition to be not quite like anything ever written before it.

1 comment:

  1. Scott, you have no idea how much your words mean to me. It's great to get a review on Amazon or Goodreads from a reader, but to get one from a fellow writer who understands literature usually better than the casual reader is absolutely the best. I'll treasure this, sir!