James Sallis on losing it, using it, and laying it to rest
Wending my way through the jutting cypress knees and humidly beautiful prose in the Turner novels by James Sallis. Literary detective fiction with a lush Southern voice and a seasoned but surprisingly unjaded view of humanity. The first in the (so far?) Turner trilogy is Cypress Grove, a book I will be quick to mention next time someone asks me about books that make one a better writer. Having tracked down the killer, Turner mulls:
Losing it's the key, the secret no one tells you. From the first day of your life, things start piling up around you: needs, desires, fears, dependencies, regrets, lost connections. They're always there. But you decide what to do with them. Polish them and put them up on the shelf. Stack them out behind the house by the weeping willow. Haul them out to the front porch and sit on them.
Reflecting on writing and life, Sallis says:
As a child I began telling stories daily to classmates and, at home, filled page after page with plots, conversations, beginnings I could never continue, never go on with. More and more, with age, my life seems to exist to be turned into these quiet pages, into literature. People I have loved are put to rest in one or another novel or story; relationships are sorted out in poems, then abandoned, or the other way around; the deepest, most engaging and damaging moments of my life become notes, then pages and, finally, books. This is the purpose my life has taken. Maybe in the end it's only that I want to leave a mark, something to show that I've been here.
Turner reTurners in Cripple Creek and Salt River, and as much as I love Sallis' writing and these books, I have to add one small note of disgruntlement:
In a stunning bit of bad form, the flap copy for Salt River contains an agonizingly huge Cripple Creek spoiler. The story builds forward from the end of one book to the next, but the spoiler could have been avoided with a rice grain of ingenuity. C'mon, Walker & Co PR schlub, you just punished me for buying all three books at once. Pox and sores and a dead hooker in your bathtub.