Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Have Gun-Will Travel," A Thinking Man's Western

I just started watching season 5 of Have Gun-Will Travel (1961-1962), sort of a thinking man's western.

Paladin, played by Richard Boone, is a well-paid gun for hire, who despite being "a knight without armor in a savage land," is a man of culture. He reads Dostoevsky, quotes Tennyson, speaks several languages, etc. He's also a ladies man. I don't remember Paladin being such an intellectual in the radio version.

Friday, June 3, 2011

An Ill-Fated Love Match

Book Review: Not a Day Goes By by E. Lynn Harris (Doubleday, 288 pp.)

I'm not going to mince words. In the wake of reading the the novels of Saul Bellow (Ravelstein), Felice Picano (The Book of Lies), John Morgan Wilson (Justice at Risk) and Shay Youngblood (Black Girl in Paris), E. Lynn Harris's romance novel, Not a Day Goes By, by comparison, is a small potato.

The book, whose chapters are mercifully short, tells the story of the ill-fated love affair of Basil Henderson, an ex-football star-turned-sports agent and Yancey Braxton, an extremely ambitious prima donna stage actress. Both characters, products of dysfunctional families, are planning to get married. But Basil has a lingering question: "[C]an a diva and a dude like me ever settle down?"

In the prologue Basil calls Yancey to inform her that their wedding is off for good. (This part of the story appears too early to create suspense.) Then it backtracks to the day of their love-at-first-sight meeting at the skating rink in Rockefeller Center. From there subsequent events and revelations (one in particular--Basil's bisexuality--could hurt his chance of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame) work to doom their marriage plans.

Although the macho, slightly homophobic Basil and the manipulative, self-centered Yancey are described in the dust jacket copy as "two very unforgettable characters," that label rightly belongs to Yancey's cold-blooded, man-grabbing femme fatale mother, Ava, herself an actress. Currently married to a wealthy computer whiz she met on a flight to Hawaii, Ava is ever on the prowl (she already snared the package delivery man) and will stop at nothing to get what, and who, she wants. And that includes acquiring a son-in-law so that Yancey can fleece him of his hard-earned wealth and then divorce him. If Harris had written a noir novel, a la James M. Cain, Ava would be a standout. I wanted to hear more from her, and less from Basil and Yancey.
Harris's alternate use of first- and third-person narration is annoying and distracting. Basil's scenes are told in his voice, while Yancey's are told in the third person. It's as though Harris was not confident enough to write from a woman's point of view.

Also, the sex scenes always involve Basil and Yancey. But if Basil is a bisexual, there should be a scene or two showing him with a man rather than having him reminisce about an old flame who "could deep-throat a jimmie like a fire-eating circus performer." Does Harris believe that too much detail about two men in bed would turn off female readers?

Overall, Not a Day Goes By is formulaic and is the literary equivalent of junk food.

Note: This review was previously published in the New York Blade News (August 11, 2000) and the Washington Blade (September 1, 2000).