Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review : Dan O'Shea - Old School (2012)



Country: USA

Genre: Hardboiled/Noir

Pages: 203 kb (eOriginal)

Buy It Here

"You reject God then? You are not a believer?"

"Reject makes it sound like the guy's standing here and I'm telling him to fuck off. He ain't here."

Snubnose Press came to hardboiled literature as welcome as ten feet of gauze on an open wound. So much talent had little to nowhere to go. They are such a hardcore, dedicated publisher, that I know whatever title I'll pick up from them will be strong. Dan O'Shea has been a working noirist for a while, now. Storing him in a particular genre doesn't do justice to the range of his fiction, but the stories of OLD SCHOOL are the dark chronicles of those who society failed. Those who can't get by and survive using the proper ways of the world. His characters have lost their ways, sometimes a part of themselves, but they are not losers. They are stumbling in the dark, looking for a way out of misery. No, Dan O'Shea isn't a noirist in the traditional sense of the term, but you can't blame an author for having a strong individuality to his work. O'Shea doesn't blend in, he stands out.

The first story of OLD SCHOOL, THE SUMMER OF FISHING is much talked about by reviewers and for good reasons. It's unconventional in many ways and that makes it so effective. It's narrated at the second person, as if a psychologist was trying to implant false memories to a client under hypnosis. It's also swiftly drifting from a nostalgia to melancholia over a few pages, using only a few sentences. From a nice place to a painful one. EXIT INTERVIEW also called attention to itself. It's as far as it can get from THE SUMMER OF FISHING and part of that makes its charm, displays the versatility, the range of stories Dan O'Shea can reach without betraying his voice. Very few writers can do that, talk about so many different subjects and not sound like a generic storytelling software. You know when you're reading a Dan O'Shea story. You know where it's heading, no matter who wants what.

I can't review this collection without mentioning SHEEPSHANK, which is by far the longest story in there. It's the cornerstone piece of the collection and one of my favorites. It's a story about an ex-cop, obsessed with a loose end in his career. It's the story in this collection that is the closest to being pure noir, so maybe that's why it would rack up third place if I had to rank my favorites. It borrows some more conventional formulas, but it doesn't feel generic by any means. See, OLD SCHOOL is separated in three thematic sections: MIDDLE AGE, THE GOLDEN YEARS and THE AFTERLIFE. SHEEPSHANK is a part of the second category and is as much about old age and the brutality of time on the human soul, as it is about an unsolved crime. SHACKLETON'S HOOTCH, THIN MINTS, HILARY'S SCARS and THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB were also home runs for me. Most stories were hits, maybe a one or two missed the mark (I didn't like the last one, WHAT LOVE IS), but those eight stories I discussed are more than worth the collection's price.

The kid had picked up the automatic that tattoo had dropped on the table and was pointing it at Harris, the gun wobbling like a diving rod looking for water. Harris lowered the .45. "Put it down. We'll take the money back. I'll keep you out of this." 

"They were my friends," the kid blubbered. He was crying.

"Wrong friends."

Another fascinating detail of Dan O'Shea's fiction is his natural talent for endings. Writing good, fitting endings to stories is one of the hardest things about writing fiction and the endings to O'Shea's shorts are so good, so tightly wrapped, they add a layer of meaning to his stories. It's one of the most rewarding aspects of reading fiction to make it to the end of a story and understand what you've went through in a new light. Dan O'Shea is the total package. He writes with enough technical proficiency to keep you trapped in his world and has a purpose, something greater to say than just a story. His subtext comments about the chaotic nature of existence and impossibility to live up to idealism will haunt you throughout your reading and long afterwards. Dan O'Shea writes like Dennis Lehane's evil brother. His prose is both sensitive and intoxicating. Another ridiculously talented writer brought to us by Snubnose Press.

FOUR STARS

3 comments:

  1. Excellent review, Ben. Snubnose has been nothing but solid... I always look forward to their releases.

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  2. Ben,, I love what you say about endings, and I totally agree with you. The ending of the story can be perhaps the most difficult thing for me to get down just right and I struggle with it every time I write a story. This is a fantastic review. I will definitely have to check out this writer and perhaps his publisher for some noir fiction that I did not know existed. I especially enjoyed how you compared tying up loose ends to old age and how both of them can weigh heavily on a person's life.

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  3. Great review of a great collection.

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