Friday, May 12, 2017

The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke

THE JEALOUS KIND by James Lee Burke is a coming of age story set in Texas during the Korean war. Summary: When Aaron spots the beautiful and gifted Valerie Epstein fighting with her boyfriend, Grady Harrelson, at a Galveston drive-in, he inadvertently challenges the power of the Mob and one of the richest families in Texas. He also discovers he must find the courage his father had found as an American soldier in the Great War. One of the telling quotes from the novel is in describing the nature of young thug sociopaths with whom the protagonist contends: “They believed power over people was achievement, and violence a badge of courage.” Burke is one of the finest writers alive, and rarely uses clich├ęs in favor of making his own. His genius sometimes crosses over to imbue the dialogue of thugs with more colorful and inventive quips and observations than they would likely be expected to display. Violent, inexperienced and mostly uneducated teens can be smart, however, and so if you grant that caveat, you are in store for more intelligent confrontations than is found in a typical Jack Reacher movie. Poetic and atmospheric, the novel evolves into something more than just fighting and one-upsmanship, and the reader or listener is left contemplating human nature, and thinking about how young men are educated and instilled with morality (or lack thereof.) By contrast, the Ray Bradbury novel Dandelion Wine is probably as opposite a view of growing up as one can imagine. That novel was about the magic of feeling alive, as part of nature. Any magic of leaving childhood here is in overcoming the constant assaults on ego made by competing criminals and gangster wannabes. Not nature itself, but the unfortunate nature of humans seeking advantage and shortcuts in order to "win" over others by degrading them, using them, and stealing everything they own (including their dignity.) Narrator Will Patton (a character actor in many movies and television series) is once again spot-on with his accents and portrayals of characters in what has to be the best coupling of writer and narrator out there. If you haven’t heard Patton read Burke, you simply do not know the greatness you are missing. 

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