Friday, July 8, 2011

The Way Home: A Novel / by George Pelecanos

Washington, D.C. lifetime resident George Pelecanos worked as a dishwasher, a cook and a women's shoe salesman prior to publishing his first novel A Firing Offense in 1992. He has subsequently risen through the ranks to become one of the leading crime novelist today, setting many of his nitty-gritty dramas in his hometown at various times in the city's history. Since 2004, he has also been a staff writer for the award-winning HBO program "The Wire", which chronicles much of the same interconnecting urban characters and personalities set in nearby Baltimore. His 2009 standalone book The Way Home chronicles a group of young men who've remained close since their days in a juvenile detention center but whose lives become mutually imperiled after a strange discovery.

All Thomas Flynn ever wanted for his son and only child was for Chris to not make the same mistakes which had befallen his own life, namely dropping out of high school, neglecting a college education and being doomed to a blue collar job for life. For Thomas, it's not that his life is all that bad, actually it's quite good. He lives in his boyhood home in a well-to-do part of D.C. (his parents bequeathing it to him upon their deaths), he's married and still in love with his high school sweetheart, he owns his own flooring installation business, he can retire early if he wants to, etc. But Chris's life so far has been a disappointment, at least in Thomas eyes. A smart kid raised in the kind of atmosphere Thomas had hoped would nurture the boy into the type of white-collar realm he'd envisioned for him, Chris had turned bad well before he could even start applying for college.

It had started with smoking dope in middle school, had escalated to violence and vandalism by his freshman year of high school and had finally landed the boy in a juvenile detention center at the age of 16. Chris had gotten his diploma while inside and had even made some decent friends. But in the 6 or so years since his release, he hadn't even thought of going to college or doing anything other than helping his father with the family business. That and he still hung around with his pals from the inside, some of whom Thomas had thought enough of to hire on as workers but others who he knew were nothing but trouble. When an incident involving what seems to be a shoddy carpet job suddenly disrupts the normal routine, Thomas believes it's nothing but another disappointment from the boy he'd hoped so much for. It's not until the real truth comes out that Thomas reconsiders his convictions as all of their lives change forever.

It's easy to see why Pelecanos is so revered as a crime writer both in the literary and media circles. His well-developed characters, edgy but not over-the-top situations and honest dialogue help the reader understand what the genre of crime writing is all about--inevitable human fallibilities, personal motivations and a world of glaring inequality. Very keen on socio-economic circumstances, roots of society's problems as well as the volatile, often violent condition of the nation's capital, the author doesn't even need any type of formula to evoke a good story. His ground-level characters and their domestic lives create all of the drama the story needs and then some. The sort of multi-perspective bird's eye-view he imparts to the reader through nearly all of the primary characters, facilitating everyone with the same sympathetic yet honest treatment, is probably his greatest tool and, ironically, one of the facets which has distinguished "The Wire" as such a successful series. (FIC PELECANOS)

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