Thursday, May 28, 2015

Blind Man with a Pistol

For a non fiction anthology piece I''m preparing to write on Chester Himes, I've been reading/re-reading Himes.  In particular, I've been going through some of the Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson books.  I just finished Blind Man with a Pistol, the 8th and next to last one in the series (last is Plan B, which Himes left unfinished), and all I can say, remarkable.

I'll write more about this novel in my coming piece, but I just wanted to jot a few thoughts down now.  For one thing, what struck me is how the chaos that is in all the Harlem Detective novels Himes wrote completely takes over in Blind Man with a Pistol.  We get a blistering, almost absurdist novel where violence is rampant and none of the major crimes, including murders, get solved. There's nothing muddled or confused in Himes method, though. He knows exactly what he's doing, presenting a picture of a world out of control, with racial tensions and racial hatred at a boil (the book was published in 1969).  The final images are those of total communication breakdown and, quite literally, a blind man with a pistol firing his gun in the enclosed space of a crowded New York City subway.  This time even Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones understand nothing and can accomplish, in their perpetual peacekeeping efforts, almost nothing.  It's a remarkably relevant book still, and it's uncompromising.  It is also, in typical Himes fashion, very funny, but when you laugh reading these pages, you have a feeling of thorns getting caught in your throat.

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