Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: HOW TO SELL by Clancy Martin.

This is first a noir novel of crime.  The first-person protagonist is not giving us a lecture on philosophy; he is simply telling the story of his experiences in the jewelry business.  Based upon the author's own history, it is a compelling noir journey into the corruption of what you will recognize as business-as-usual, for these things go on every day in America--and not just in the jewelry trade.  The novel is unforgettably chilling because it rings so true.

There is a lot of philosophy in here but it is mostly understated in a subtext, though you might wonder at the protagonist's choice of reading matter--such books as Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  Part of the fun in the novel is in trying to figure the protagonist out, trying to see what he sees, trying to find some solid moral ground on which he can stand.  Rooting for him to free himself from the dark side.

James Ryerson, editor of of the New York Times Magazine, included How To Sell in his discussion of philosophical novels at this link.  This was one of my top five books of last year, though its sales weren't much and it seems already sadly forgotten and tremendously undervalued.

Last year there were a scattered few positive reviews, such as NPR's, but most seemed bland and negative, snubbing this darkly hilarious and relevant noir novel on laissez-faire capitalism--what the Republican party is currently praising as such a good thing.

The author worked in the Texas jewelry business for years before becoming an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri.

In a few interviews across the web, Clancy Martin has been vocal about the authorial intent of his novel.  His aiming at human universals is sometimes conscious.  He says he got the use of the color yellow to denote despair from reading Dostoevsky.  He used Carver as a minimalist model, as well as Camus and a host of other good ones.  He used Plato, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard for bits of philosophy.

Clancy Martin is the CM in this interview.  The man can talk books, and you ought not miss his splendid first novel of intellectual noir.

1 comment:

  1. Now this is why I read these posts on forgotten books. I will be hunting for this book post haste! Thanks, Richard.