Dark Crime Drama Explores Innocence
By Dan Pearson, Correspondent
Take his most recent release, "The Getaway Man." The $11 Vintage Crime/Black Lizard paperback original features an eye-catching, full-color portrait of a bodacious young woman in front of the bisected image of a determined young man gripping a red steering wheel.
Although the new novel is a contemporary crime story, it is being marketed as a modern take on classic noir and a reinvention of the classic pulp style that reflects the lurid flavor of titles first published in the post-war '40s and '50s.
"I reject that pulp definition," Vachss said on a recent visit to Chicago.
"What is pulp? Is it 'Superman' or 'The Shadow' or 'Doc Savage'?" Is this what this book resembles to you? Not to me. Do you mean the format which Dashiell Hammett was first published? It is too generic a term for me to respond to.
"I didn't draw the cover. I approved the cover. I like the cover. The cover is exactly what I wanted, but the cover is not the book.
"If I put a different cover on this book, if I put a leaf gently falling into a still pool with the Japanese character for loyalty in the upper right-hand corner, people would say, 'Oh my goodness, what a serious novel.'
"I deliberately used this kind of cover because I suspect people will be lazy and do what they do. (Some) people are very confused (now) because The New York Times loved the book, and that doesn't seem right seeing that's its 'pulp.'"
An intense and sometimes intimidating native New Yorker whose last name rhymes with "ax," Vachss has successfully employed the genre of very hardboiled crime fiction to get across his very serious and very real agenda of social reform in the areas of child abuse, sexual predators and youthful offenders.
"I wanted to write a book about innocence, and the Burke series isn't an appropriate vehicle for that. I wanted to write a paperback original and Burke isn't appropriate for that, and I wanted a different narrative voice than I have been using to illustrate the points I wanted to make in this books. So it all came together in what you see."
Vachss, who served as the head of the Uptown Community Association in Chicago in 1970, said "The Getaway Man" originated as a short story that he expanded on the advice of his editor.
Vachss defines Eddie, the misunderstood title character who falls in with career criminals and fast women, as an innocent man.
"For his whole life he wanted to get away from where he was and be bonded with others. There is nothing stupid about Eddie. He is an inexperienced person who is certainly capable of all those human emotions that make up a good person."
Vachss said the movies that Eddie watches and loves, such as "Thunder Road," "The Driver" and "Vanishing Point," were not particular favorites of the author.
"This book isn't about me. They are part of the plot. They are movies about driving, not about racing which wouldn't interest Eddie but about being a driver. That's why they fascinate him so much because he wants to try to understand himself."
A guaranteed page-turner, "The Getaway Man" delivers stark prose and valid characters that came from the author's experience.
"This is not about imagination. This is not about references to the past or homage or anything else. I know that would make some people more comfortable but it is just not true. All I would like people to do is read it and make up their own damn minds."
For more information about Vachss, check out his Web site at www.vachss.com.
© 2003 The Daily Southtown. All rights reserved.
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