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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Get paid or die tryin’

“I’m the chump capable of anything for a little bit of cash.”*
"Sóc el brètol capaç de tot per una mica de calé.”

Jaume Fuster's Enric Vidal in De mica en mica s’omple la pica

I just finished Jaume Fuster’s noir-genre book, De mica en mica s’omple la pica.

"De mica en mica s’omple la pica" is a popular Catalan aphorism which literally translates to “Little by little the sink fills up” which sounds really bad in English, so I would probably translate it to “Drip by drip the sink fills up”, not much better, but there you have it.

This is a good bad book, tending a little more toward the bad (even for the super clichéd detective genre). But it’s bad in an acceptable way, if you get what I mean. I haven’t read many detective books, but as a kid I read lots of Jim Thompson, and noir is one of my favorite film genres, so I can say with some authority that this is unabashedly pulp which makes it funny - but very predictable, and in many cases totally unbelievable.

Enric Vidal, the fall guy, needs money - and doesn’t care how he gets it. He finds himself unwittingly embroiled in a couple of murders, an illegal gambling and drug empire, and the kidnapping of his girlfriend – all for his efforts to make good an unpaid debt.

Because of his unscrupulous attitude, and his need for una mica de calé, Vidal gets involved in a shady money laundering scheme. This takes him on a whirlwind tour of Europe and finally back to Barcelona, with a new mossa de bon veure (good-looking dame) on his arm.

Back in Barcelona he goes to collect his payment from his employer, the shady mitja merde Andreu Rodergues, minion of the baddest baddie in Barcelona, Jaume Romagossa.

Murder on carrer Fontanella, where Mica ... begins

This is where the book opens. Everything goes wrong, as you would expect.

From the opening paragraph:

The office was empty; I mean there was no furniture. On the walls, one could see lighter stains where charts and calendars once hung. Newspapers, used and crumpled, oil stained, which always remain in an empty apartment after a move. The naked lightbulb, 60W, spread a thin light that bounced off the stained straw of the walls, off the dull green of the ground, off the lifeless form of Rodergues.

El despatx era buit; vull dir que no hi havia mobles. A les parets, taques més clares on abans hi havia penjats el gràfic i els calendaris. Papers de diari, d’aquells matxucats, tacats d’oli, que sempre queden en un pis buit després d’un trasllat. La bombeta nua, de seixanta, escampava una claror esmorteïtda que retopava en el palla tacat dels murs, en el verd deslluït del terra, en les formes sese vida d’en Rodergues.

[excuse my translation. All my knowledge of Catalan is from television and passing conversation]

De mica en mica s’omple la pica was fairly easy and fun to read, so it was a good choice for my first book in Catalan. The first half was especially well-paced, with a staggered time structure that kept up the suspense.

Unfortunately Fuster didn’t maintain this style to the end of his book. He changes tenses several times in the last half, goes for a standard linear structure, and in my opinion, falters completely in the last 5 pages with a typical wrap-up where the protagonist has to explain it all.

The deus ex machina is one of the things I don’t like about some noir movies and detective stories (admittedly I don’t know much).

In my opinion a wrap-up reflects a lack of rigor and timidness on the part of the author. What should be explained within the context of the story in action and dialogue, or even reflection, is spelled out for the audience in a tedious sum up, often times with a "happy ending". Poetic justice, pathos, where none is needed. Of course, there are exceptions. But the best noir ends tragically, with a sense of foreboding. Take Sunset Boulevard, or Chinatown for example. Those movies had uncommon impact, and it’s precisely because they’re funny, dark, and not at all rounded out.


*I think I’m going to print that on a T-shirt and wear it to work.