Friday, January 18, 2008

Charles Willeford, "The Shark-Infested Custard"

Over the years I've spent a lot of time sifting through Amazon.com, looking for stuff that I might enjoy. In the process I've discovered innumerable items that I have enjoyed. Without this resource there are no doubt many things that I never would have discovered. If you' haven't played around on this site, I recommend trying it out some time. It's the best way to figure out whether or not you'd enjoy a particular CD, DVD or book. All you have to do is search for a product you like a lot, and take in the numerous recommendations that the Amazon search engine, or its many users, have in store for you. I've constructed a lengthy wish list by doing this very thing. The best part of it is that you can buy selections from independent marketplace sellers, often for less than the retail price.

While my experiences with Amazon have been overwhelmingly positive, once in awhile I am led to something I don't like. Obviously no system of recommendations is infallible. In addition one doesn't always know exactly what he/she likes. You have to take the time with the reviews and the various lists to make the best decisions. Over time your tastes may even change. Perhaps that's what happened between the time I identified Charles Willeford as an author worth checking out, and the time I finally broke down and ordered one of his books. I was excited by the prospect of reading The Shark-Infested Custard, and cracked it open soon after receiving it in the mail.

I had actually looked around for a Willeford title for years. For some odd reason I could never find any of his stuff at the Half-Priced Books stores that I frequent. I knew he was prolific, so I kept waiting and searching. It's quite possible that I never saw any of his books because I don't shop in the sections where he is shelved. He is usually categorized as a hard boiled crime/mystery writer. I don't have a whole lot of experience with that genre. Maybe Amazon recommended Willeford because I had reported liking a Jim Thompson book. Or maybe they seized upon my positive rating of Cockfighter- a movie for which Willeford wrote the screenplay.

All I can say with complete conviction is that this was a misfire. I wasn't even minimally impressed by The Shark-Infested Custard. The story (as it is) is told from the perspectives of four young men, who meet each other while living in an apartment complex for singles. They are like caricatures of the typical 70's-era professional American male, and (as such) I had a hard time relating with them from the start. They are shallow and blunt, without any type of sophistication or depth to keep the reader interested. These cartoonish boors display about as much emotional development and insight as the average adolescent frat-boy. I'm not sure whether they were created intentionally to be this baldly regressive or whether their portrayal reflects the personality of Willeford himself.

To make matters even more dire, the writing is poor- with obvious grammatical errors and a half-baked narrative device that seeks to tell the story through each character's perspective in turn. There is no cohesive thread that ties the events of the book together. Without creating any tension, and absent compelling motivation and/or social analysis, reading The Shark-Infested Custard was flat-out boring. That's probably the most grievous sin a writer can commit within this genre. Without pace or interesting interaction... without intriguing circumstances or settings... without the semblance of engaging dialog... there's just no reason to continue reading. I finished this book merely because I wanted to count it on my "reading project" list. I was also curious to see if it would redeem itself toward the end. Unfortunately, it didn't.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Mitchell said...

Man, I really think you were reading something other then Willeford. I've read everything by him I can get my hands on (including Shark").
If Mr. Willord made grammatical errors, they were intentional. Perhaps you should read Sideswipe or Miami Blues. They may be more to your liking.
He was a brilliant author that deserves a second read.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Ok then. I will keep my eye out for another of his books, and give him a second try.

9:41 PM  

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