Thursday, July 15, 2010

Robert B Parker, RIP

Yesterday, in a throw-away line, I wrote that I was reading the last Robert B Parker book I'd ever read.  Well, I just finished it, and I'm sad.  I took a long long time to read the last 30 pages or so, which, if you've ever read any of his books you will know takes some doing. He's not big on description; he'll let you know where he is, but that's about it.  In the car (it used to be a Mustang, and it took center stage in some of the stories, but the 'stang was trashed and now his car is just his car) or in his office with Pearl's couch or at police headquarters or Spenser or Susan's apartment, or drinking in the bar at the Ritz or meeting a nefarious character on the Common, but aside from the windows and what can be seen through them, we really have no idea what the spaces look like.  He's just there, and he's Spenser, and I love him.

Yes, I do.  If he showed up at the front door I'd send TBG out the back door.  The Little Cuter calls this her Freebie List.  G'ma only has Errol Flynn on hers.  I used to have Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise but their personal lives are so bizarre that I no longer consider them viable candidates.  But Spenser?  Absolutely.

First of all,he loves Susan Silverman, a Jewish girl who's a therapist.  Just like me.  Well, kinda sorta.... social worker from UofC or PhD from Harvard....well,Susan would think that she's won the contest, but I'll settle for being her friend.  Granted, she doesn't eat enough, but I  could pick up a fashion tip or two from her.  I have a history of doing that - finding well-dressed friends and going to school on their style, but Susan is more than that.  She's thoughtful about Spenser being a killer (because that is what he is) and she left him for a while because it was just too awful for her.  But they're back together, forever, because Robert B. Parker is dead and  he left them, and Hawk, in love, in Boston.  Forever.  

Of course, I suffer from narrative lust and so I'm peeved.  I want more.  I want to see them age and come to terms with the loss of physical prowess.  Parker may not be here to tell me, but the characters are front and center in my mind these days.  Similarly, Patrick O'Brian may have left this mortal coil for an afterlife with his wife, but Aubrey and Maturin and Diana are still on my nightstand, keeping me company as I try to fall asleep. 

I love that about books.  There are a few authors - O'Brian and Parker, obviously, but also Dorothy Leigh Sayres and Louisa May Alcott, for starters - who seem to sit on the sofa as I curl in the twirling chair and read what they've written.  I love the stories.  I love the language.  I love the characters - I named the Little Cuter after Jo March - and I live their lives right beside them.  I am taking Susan's small bites and hiding in the attic with Jo and feeling out of sorts on land with Aubrey, at home with his wife and his brood and his men, who I'd love to come to my house and keep it shipshape.  I am Diana riding recklessly and falling in love with an absurd physical specimen when I could have any man in Europe.

I have a stack of books on the end table here in the living room because they never made it to the library.  TBG was asking about Shylock and I went to the shelves but they were bare -- this house has no wall space and hence, hardly any bookshelves.  I sold my Shakespeares, it seems, to Bookmans.  And there I was, all prepared to read TBG the pound of flesh scenes.  Did you know that Shylock really did want an actual pound of flesh in payment?  It's true.  If I hadn't sold the book I'd quote it for you.  But this is a post about literature and not the interweb, so I'm not searching for it.  Just as I don't have a Kindle, I'm not putting electronic quotes in a post celebrating  books.

Because I love books  I know that I would have loved Robert Parker as a human being because all of his books are printed on bright white heavy stock.  When you turn a page, you know you've turned a page.  It feels solid in your hand.  Since he writes dialog to tell his story, sometimes you just need to catch your breath.  Turning serious pages seems to do that.  I like a man who knows that.

He lived downstairs and his wife, Joan, lived upstairs.  I think that might be a great plan.  They loved each other, but they couldn't live together.  Until death do us part made sense when women died in childbirth with alarming regularity and the average life expectancy was 40.  But 60 or 70 years of sharing a space may be more than the species can handle.  Given the relationship he describes between Spenser and Susan, I think separate quarters worked for Parker and Joan, too. Susan is smart and always late and perfectly attired.  She doesn't cook (he does), loves their dog (shared custody), is a wildly successful psychotherapist (it helps when you are the author and can create your patients' disorders) and is completely aware of the issues in her relationship with Spenser.  I want her for my friend.  I want to ask her advice.  Advice about shopping and relationships and my sister.  I just want to be around her.  It's interesting that Parker never writes about Susan having female friends.  She has had other sexual relationships, but beyond Hawk, Spenser seems to be her social life.

For as much as he gets most things right, this is a problem for me.  No one as wonderful as Susan Silverman could be without female friends.

Hawk is the distillation of the black tough guy.  He's so much a caricature, so stereotypical, but somehow he comes out the other side and enters the consciousness as a believable character.  He's gorgeous, blacker than night, tougher than nails, quicker faster stronger than anyone else, and he's always got your back.  I want him in my life.  Not that I'm feeling particularly threatened.  Not at all.  But his kind of confidence, knowing that everyone knows that he is The Man, well, it's very attractive to me.

I don't like to watch boxing on tv.  I don't even like to think about it very much.  But Henry Cimino took Spenser and tried to make him a champ, and his gym seems like a place that I could learn to work the speed bag.  I belonged to an up-the-stairs-brick-walled-second-floor-real-weight-lifter's-gym in Chicago when I followed my trainer. He'd been fired from the upscale fitness center for touching a client (and if you can tell me how you can explain weight lifting without touching your client I invite you to comment below) and he was training for the Mr. Natural Competition. This was his gym on the north side.  They played only one station - with a beat.  There were no pictures on the walls.  The mirrors were there for checking your form, not for admiring your outfit.  One morning,  as my triceps and pecs decided that the barbell I'd overloaded was just too much, as I imagined the policeman telling the Cuters that their mother had been crushed on the bench press bench, a fellow gym rat came and rescued me before death came a'calling.  "I should've been watching," he said. 

Truly, it was a Spenser moment.

I can't believe that I've read them all. There will be no more.   Just as with Jack Aubrey and Sam Spade and Lord Peter, I'll have to get used to forgetting the plots and starting all over again.

Thank you, Mr. Parker.  You always made me happy.

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