Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Books with proper adults: The Fabulous Clipjoint by Fredric Brown

They had a post about effective misdirection on the Castalia House blog a while ago, which is where I came across Fredric Brown’s name; a serendipitous discovery.

The main thing you should know about Brown is that his adults are actually proper adults.

The major proper adult in The Fabulous Clipjoint is Am Hunter, the older working class uncle of the narrator. He’s been around the block, and then some, and as far as book characters go he feels just right. He’s tough, but not in the way a lot of authors write tough, which is fake. The closest term we get for how Brown writes him these days is ‘situationally aware’. I’ve known a lot of guys like Am over the years, particularly when I was younger, and I’ve always respected them; they sidestep trouble until trouble sidesteps them.

One of the things proper adult men used to do (but not so much anymore) was to take teens on the cusp of manhood and mentor them. In my first jobs, older guys like Am Hunter teased me, but they also showed me how to be a man. Some of the fondest memories of my youth are of spending time with men who taught me things I’ve never forgotten. They were generous and forgiving, and Frederic Brown captures this aspect of the older/younger man relationship as well as I've seen. Most coming-of-age tales don’t have half the truth contained in this book. And for that alone it’s worth reading.

The author also captures something else; Chicago in the 1940s. Eighteen-year-old narrator Ed Hunter keeps the observations to a minimum, but builds up a picture of a squalid and corrupt city. Funny how the place described eighty years ago is on the verge of total collapse now. Brown was onto something even back then.

And on a final note, when did book covers stop being as interesting as the pulps? When I searched for an image of Clipjoint’s cover, I came up with about half-a-dozen editions, each more lurid, loud and lascivious than the other. What a time. But like Chicago, almost gone. 

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