A Clean, Well-Lighted Getaway

A Clean, Well-Lighted Getaway

            Larry Young & John Proctor’s The Black Diamond is a splendid romp, as the capsule-reviewers are fond of saying. It’s also a very interesting meditation on the intersection between genre, desire and the quotidian in contemporary America. The nominal story revolves around a putative cross-continental rescue mission (Don McLaughlin, D.D.S. must find a way to save his architect wife from muddle-headed kidnappers!), but, in fact, almost nothing that happens fits into that plot scheme. Graeme McMillan, in his fine intro to the book, advises the reader not to worry too much about the plot, but, at the risk of contradicting that erstwhile fanboy stampeder, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend that you take scrupulous note of the plot.

        Because it’s interesting! Even better–at every turn, it thwarts the analytical efforts of two of this narrative’s most amusing denizens, a pair of Tarantino-esque kidnappers on a meta-fictional kick. These guys, whose endless refrain is that there are only TWO stories (“stranger in town” or “trying to find your way home”), get it half right–in fact, if you’re an existentialist like me, there’s only ONE human situation (“stranger at home”), but an infinite number of plots swirl around that non-center. None of them take us anywhere we want to go (i.e. a home we can return to), but they’re all that we’ve got. No wonder we cling to them. So I say yes, by all means, pay attention to the plot(s) of this book (there’s a new/different one erupting on every page, right under the noses of its (Joseph) Campbellian chorus!). This may not make sense to the “character is plot” brigade (characterization is decidedly not the creators’ main goal in this book)–but, to me, plot is atmosphere. The air that we breathe.

           And what crazy air this is! Filled with laughing gas I’d say. This is a wonderfully good-natured book–considering its Road Warriorish premise. I hope I’m not giving too much away when I say that everyone in this story is nicer than you expect them to be. There’s certainly no shortage of menace (Proctor’s amazing Blast-era Wyndham-Lewis style art does most of the work on that front–and I do mean front–doncha know there’s a lovely war on up top?)–but it’s all maya. This book is about the good that men and women do, when they drive like loons down a thieves’ superhighway in search of people to save and the appropriate shirt. Yes, vehicles and corporate logos might take a beating along the way–and it might become necessary to stage a maniacal ballet of armed insurrection in order to set the proper mood for a kiss–but it’s all in the service of demonstrating what illegal velocity and dialed-to-eleven explosions  have to do with the denizens of the “lower world” (that’s us, my friend–unless you’ve got a black diamond near you).

       You can keep the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stuff (although it, too, makes for good atmosphere–“hoo hah”), for me, the key exchange in the book is this one:

Cammie: (who can’t believe that a mere dentist could take all of this multiplex mayhem in his stride) “Former military. I got your secret.”

Don:     “Most of the patients you see as a dentist are somewhere on a continuum between mild apprehension and pee-their pants terror. Nobody, but nobody, likes going to the dentist. And going to the orthodontist? Forget it.  And as your patients get more and more apprehensive, you get more and more frustrated and disturbed. I can’t tell you what the mechanism is, but I can tell you those mental states are contagious.
            So you either quit, or deal. I found a way to deal. Being up here isn’t any worse than being down there.”

        The world–the real, everyday world–is a chaotic mess, and we’re all of us dealing.A dentist might have a little more face time with fear than most of us do, but then again, s/he also gets to do something more literal about it. Straighten something out. Under antiseptic fluorescents. You know where I’m going with this–Don’s got a “Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” (as do we all, in our analogous ways) and, since it’s the attitude that matters, not the accessories, it’s only natural that he, Kate, Cammie and the rest of the gang (on both sides of the divide) should enjoy a clean, well lighted getaway, every once in a while. I’m not talking about “escapism” here (although this book certainly delivers on that level as well)–the getaway IS the “place” of clarity. Hemingway’s place. He must have been in Europe too long at the point he wrote this particular story to remember that there’s no place anything like “home.” For an American, fulfillment, such as it is, always lies out there on the “open road.” At least, that’s what most of the country’s great literature argues. Isn’t it a shame that the black diamond concept–the idea of quarantining all of that great, creative, soul-scrambling energy at the heart of the American project–is pretty much the stuff that Republican wet dreams are made of? As above, so below. We’d all do well to remember that.

that’s my review–we don’t do grades here–but I’m sure you can tell that I liked it.

good night friends!


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