Pinging the memory’s consciousness

It isn’t often that an interview makes me gasp aloud, but Mark Sarvas’s interview with Jonathan Lethem did exactly that. Here’s why:

TEV: Who’s the best author we’ve never heard of?

JL: This is a perfect time to mention my favorite

dark horse — in my mind, the best postwar U.S. novelist still

untouched by the present revival boom (is it because he’s Left

Coastish?): Don Carpenter.

Berkeley born and raised, lived most of his life in Mill Valley —

except, yes, for stints in Hollywood, where he wrote in the fading days

of the studio system, squeezed out one great proto-indie movie (PAYDAY,

with Rip Torn), and stuck better than Fuchs to writing fiction. Hence

produced, after first two great novels HARD RAIN FALLING (a terrific

prison novel which helped inspire THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE) and BLADE

OF LIGHT (which, incidentally, looks to have been an uncredited source

for the movie SLINGBLADE), a string of lean and effective novels of


COMEDIANS, and TURNAROUND. Carpenter was among other things, a great

writer on the subject of gambling — pool and poker, specifically —

and that made him particularly apt in his depiction of the fate of art,

including his own, in a money town.

Several years ago I vowed to track down Carpenter’s work after I ran across his official site while slavishly devoting myself to my man Shel. The two of them first met while working at the Pacific Stars & Stripes in the mid-1950s and their friendship was off and on for many years afterwards, as Silverstein composed the score for PAYDAY and the two worked on other film-related projects that never saw the light of day. I even remember exchanging a couple of emails with Carpenter’s daughter, Bonnie Howard, on whether there was any Shel-related material in her father’s voluminous archives, but nothing came of it. Last I’d heard, Howard was editing Carpenter’s letters for publication, but so far there’s no sign anything of the sort was ever published.

And I never did end up reading any of Carpenter’s books, but I sure will now. For those who have, any particular suggestions? I’m leaning towards A COUPLE OF COMEDIANS, but HARD RAIN FALLING sounds really good too…