Book Review: Readings
The Latest in Paper
Reviewed by Jesse Sublett, Fri., Aug. 29, 2003
The Second Half of the Double Featureby Charles Willeford
Wit's End Publishing, 240 pp., $17.95 Even before he died in 1988, Charles Willeford was a difficult writer to categorize. His essays were wickedly funny. So were his short stories, even when they sometimes veered into sudden, startling violence. Willeford found his greatest commercial success and critical acclaim with a series of four crime novels (Miami Blues, New Hope for the Dead, Sideswipe, The Way We Die Now) that he wrote late in his career, though the idea of being a "series" mystery novelist was something Willeford originally found so corny that the first-draft follow-up to Miami Blues had his protagonist, Miami police detective Hoke Moseley, ending up on death row for murdering his two obnoxious teenage daughters. Willeford reconsidered this tact, however, and the subsequent three novels saw Hoke coping with life's little stresses in slightly more conventional ways.
His quartet of decidedly untraditional, insightful, and wickedly funny crime novels cemented Florida's reputation as a place where the norms of behavior are so out of whack, the criminals almost seem normal -- and that is the essence of the world-view you'll find woven through the 25 short stories and essays in The Second Half of the Double Feature, an anthology that collects 25 short stories, including seven previously unpublished works.
James Crumley once said of Willeford's reputation as a prankster, "Even when he's not kidding, he's kidding," a comment that'll be good to bear in mind when reading pieces like "Behind Him Goes His Dream," about a dedicated Depression hobo who realizes the American dream despite a lifetime of conscientiously avoiding its trappings like the plague.
"During the ten years he was in prison, the United States underwent a terrible transformation. Money became plentiful. Jobs cropped up out of nowhere. He couldn't believe what was happening to him; he was bewildered, dazed. It was like living a nightmare."
It also helps to bear in mind that Willeford's startlingly varied life résumé included, in addition to having been a tank commander during World War II, being a hobo in the Thirties.
In addition to the trade paper edition that sells for $17.95, Wit's End Publishing also offers a hardcover edition for $35.95, which includes Willeford's complete published poetry and nearly 50 previously unpublished poems. Not every poem holds up as well as the short stories, but on the extremely rare occasions that you find a writer as incredibly good as Willeford, I believe that being a completist is the way to go.