Thursday, October 8, 2015

Chris Knopf

Chris Knopf's mysteries have critics likening Sam Acquillo to Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe and Robert Parker's Spenser, while repeatedly comparing Knopf to Elmore Leonard.

His new novel is Cop Job.

Recently I asked Knopf about what he was reading. His reply:
No matter how much praise some books receive, sometimes I feel it’s not enough. When the trailers for the movie version of Gone Girl started showing up, I grabbed a copy of the book, knowing that unavoidable spoilers were heading my way. My expectations were fairly neutral, being naturally inured to popular opinion, yet after only a few pages, I was stunned at how good the book was.

Let me count the ways: The prose seems effortless, beguiling in it’s seeming earnestness and sincerity. Amy is at once sophisticated and na├»ve, observant, coolly funny and deliriously in love. Even without the spoilers, I knew no good would come of this idyllic circumstance, which only made Amy’s narrative that much more involving. As the points of view shift from Amy to Nick and back again, and between their fragmented identities, the writing never falters, and Flynn never loses control over her complex story. The suspense was palpable throughout. The central mystery fractures into multiple mysteries, the protagonists’ reliability comes deeper into question, each stage of the process amping up the suspense and delivering ever more delightful surprises. In many ways the heart of the story is the zeitgeist, the tectonic social forces that fuel the events, that seem to unleash the sociopathic tendencies of both protagonists that may well have remained forever dormant. The ambiguity of the conclusion. The last line could have been, “And they lived uneasily ever after.” A tour de force, and further proof that literary isn’t a genre, it’s a quality that transcends categorization.

Speaking of transcending category, Margaret Vandenburg’s The Home Front is a story about Todd Barron, the CO of a team of drone pilots who wages war and wreaks havoc on enemies in Afghanistan from the air-conditioned comfort of a control room in Nevada. He and his wife Rose also have a severely autistic son, Max. You may not readily see how his experiences at work and home create a dynamic that intensifies and ultimately defines the moral of the tale, but that’s the brilliance of Vandenburg’s novel. Rose has her own battle underway, as she tries to deploy every available treatment – from established medicine to exotic New Age – to rescue their son as he recedes inexorably into a world entirely inaccessible to his parents. Here the war is mostly between hope and will versus resignation and despair. Todd and Rose are essentially good people, true of heart and devoted to each other, yet seemingly powerless against their son’s agonizing affliction, and the irreconcilable directions each of their lives are taking. This is a wholly original work, and as the New York Times said, “The novel is schematic, but also profoundly timely." (Disclosure: Home Front is published by The Permanent Press, where I’m a co-publisher.)

I bought An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth on the strength of Chris Hadfield’s extraterrestrial rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, which got about a billion hits the moment it landed on YouTube. It’s extraordinarily beautiful and compelling and you can watch it any time you want, which I highly recommend. While not as transcendently moving, the book is pretty good. What I like most is the understated voice – Hadfield’s modesty living peaceably with his pride of accomplishment for being the first Canadian to reach his cosmological heights. You also get a good dose of astronaut procedural, as he takes you through the the rigors of training, and his honest feelings of insecurity in the face of so many worthy competitors. I read a lot of non fiction, and I’m mostly drawn to real stories by exceptional people. This is one of the best and most frankly rendered. No ghost writer in sight – I hope that means he actually wrote the thing himself.
Visit Chris Knopf's website.

Coffee with a canine: Chris Knopf & Sam.

--Marshal Zeringue