Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wallace Stroby

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and a former editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. His novels include the acclaimed Gone ’til November and the Barry Award finalist The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

His new novel is Cold Shot to the Heart.

In late January I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
In 1981, I picked Tom McGuane’s novel Ninety-Two in the Shade off a rack at a now-defunct bookstore in St. Augustine, Fla. I had no idea who McGuane was, or what the book was about. That it looked quirky, and that it was set in Florida – where I’d just arrived to attend college – was all I knew. Reading it was like a shot of adrenaline and blotter acid. It made my head spin. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. I’ve read almost everything he’s written since.

But it‘s been nine years since McGuane’s last novel, The Cadence of Grass, and I picked up his latest, Driving on the Rim, with a little trepidation. Had the master of the American comic novel lost his mojo somewhere down the pike? Turns out there was no reason to worry. Though it’s not quite up there with his masterpieces, such as Ninety-Two, Panama and Keep the Change, Driving on the Rim is indisputably a Tom McGuane novel, something no one else on the planet is capable of producing.

Driving is the odyssey of Irving Berlin “I.B.” Pickett, a small-town Montana doctor with a weakness for pursuing the wrong women, and an inexplicable blindness when it comes to choosing the right one. Told in first person, Driving is I.B.’s confession of sorts, beginning with his childhood with a Pentecostalist mother and cynical, but long-suffering father (“I was nearly middle-aged before I learned that my mother’s hometown in Arkansas was not called, as my father had said, ‘Crackeropolis’.”). I.B. meets lots of friends, mentors, enemies and tormentors along the way, but the constant thread in his life is women, beginning with his seduction by his aunt at age 15 (“I believe that Silbie instilled in me a healthy attitude toward sex: she pumped and I squirted. It was completely lacking in a moral or religious dimension.”).

I.B.’s inability to keep it in his pants eventually undoes him, when the death of a patient and former lover leads to accusations of negligent homicide. Still, on the verge of losing all, I.B. obsesses over a woman he can never truly possess – an independent and secretive pilot whom he rescues after a plane crash, but who never seems to have his best interests at heart.

Heavy as all this may sound, Driving on the Rim is often spit-take funny, and its final line – like many of McGuane’s – is a beauty. He’s the true heir to Charles Portis, and a long line of American comic novelists going back to Mark Twain. That the book is sometimes shot through with sadness only make the laughs that much richer.
Visit the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

The Page 69 Test: Gone 'til November.

The Page 69 Test: Cold Shot to the Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue