Friday, January 4, 2013

Stephen Greenleaf's BOOK CASE: Friday's Forgotten Book

A brilliant manuscript arrives at a publishing house, but unfortunately, no one knows who wrote it or whether it's fact or fiction.  Private detective John Marshall Tanner has been invited to a writer's party, where the publisher wants to hire him to track down the origin of the work.
Here's the opening to Book Case:

"I'm not certain whether the affliction originates in genetic dis-inclination or in environmentally induced aversion, but I've always been more of a recluse than a celebrant.

Most of my lies have been uttered to evade the sticky dangle of a social occasion, and most of my alcoholic intake has been consumed to ease me through those festivities I'd been too timid or unimaginative to avoid.

As a result, parties and I pretty much parted ways early in the decade, when staying home with Malamud or Mahler or Montana began to seem preferable to most of the alternatives that came my way. . .

So it was distinctly out of the ordinary for me to be parading my hard-won nonchalance on the fringes of a handsomely refurbished loft on the trendiest corner south of Market, with something called the Sunday Punch sloshing over the rim of the plastic glass that had been foisted on me the moment I arrived, as I waited for my host to find time to tell me why I'd been invited to spend an evening with half a hundred guests who were far too young to have been confronted by life's more vicious vicissitudes, at least not the sort that made my own little ledge of the world a precarious perch.

As out of place as a parent at a prom..."
Book Case Book Cover - Stephen Greenleaf
That's the first few lines of Stephen Greenleaf's private-eye novel, Book Case, published back in 1991.  I easily identify with Greenleaf's series protagonist, John Marshall Tanner, who was a recluse but not a complete recluse, an introverted guy (as the opening shows), but it is not humanity that he shies away from--just the opposite.  What he despises is the plastic phoniness and hypocrisy of these party people.  Tanner isn't out of step with humanity, but rather, the neurotic money-and-celebrity-worshiping popular American culture is out of step with the better angels of humanity.

Some time ago, I selected Greenleaf's last novel, Ellipsis, as my forgotten book of the week.  I turn to him again today, because my mood seems right.

Before I published my Best Novels list for the year, I tried again to tackle that book which seems to be on the Best Novel list of everyone else--Gillian Flynn's Gone GirlI found Flynn's protagonists insufferable psychopaths.  I knew from the hype that there were twists and turns galore, yet the more I read, the more I felt uncomfortable doing so, this during the Christmas season of the Fiscal Cliff, where it is hard enough to escape the greed and commercialism hyped repeatedly in the media.

So I gave up on it again, and I turned to Stephen Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner, my own idea of a civilized voice.  Introverted, yes, but not anti-social, just not high-society social.

This last month I've also read Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking, a best seller now in its nineteenth printing.   I liked it, but I wished it was less pendant and more comprehensive.  The extrovert/introvert divide is not nearly as important as the empathetic/psychopathic divide.  Loners are often loving, compassionate people, and the love between them can run deep.

Anneli Rufus, author of Party of One:  The Loner's Manifesto, says that "one of the public's biggest misconceptions is that loners care nothing for love," and she cites her own marriage to her fellow loner and husband.  If Susan Cain has read Anneli Rufus's excellent book, she fails to cite it.

Greenleaf's John Marshall Tanner is an unmarried man who has his faults, but he is constantly searching for love, for goodness, for authenticity.  His narration is one that you, the reader, can trust.

Stephen Greenleaf quit writing novels due to lack of sales, but meanwhile, Gillian Flynn's wildly hyped and wildly successful Gone Girl has been optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon, who will star in the movie.
Author Gillian Flynn and Reese Witherspoon

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