Friday, March 09, 2007
Review: The Art of Losing
OK, let's admit it, readers of literary fiction tend to shit on the popular genres whenever they can. It's deemed not serious and unimportant, failing to capture the true essence of humanity. Now, if you're reading this, chances are you read crime fiction and feel the same way as I do about those thoughts: they're bullshit. There are good books and there are bad books; that's all that people should consider.
Granted, there are plenty of books in the popular fiction genre that fail in reaching the upper echelon (some don't even try), but that doesn't mean there aren't literary masterpieces to be found in mystery, science fiction or horror. Some genre books are lucky enough to capture the attention of the more snooty lit folks out there. They are usually described as transcending the genre - the underlining criticism in that statement is that the genre sucks. However, these more esteemed books can serve the genres by demonstrating that popular fiction can (and should) receive more respect than it does by the literati elite. One book that could serve such a purpose is Keith Dixon's The Art of Losing.
This noir novel about the dangers of gambling is a superbly written look at the lower depths of humanity. It examines how greed, self-delusion and misguided trust can ruin one man; destroying everything he had in a futile attempt to gain everything he thought he wanted.
Mike Jacobs is a documentary filmmaker whose three films have received critical praise, but little financial success. He's an artist who continually suffers for his love of filmmaking, but has grown tired of being broke. When a friend asks for his help in fixing some horse races, Mike is initially reluctant, but finally agrees to take part.
Any reader of the genre can tell you that things won't work out well; but if they did, who the hell would want to read it? But Dixon is talented enough to stay away from the clichés. Like most of the book, the terrible things that happen aren't there to push the plot forward, but to tear away at the characters. Dixon strips his characters down to the bone and shows how people will react to similarly awful circumstances.
One of the more disturbing themes of the book is the limitation of friendships. Jacobs foolishly trusts his gabbling-addicted friend and ends up facing some pretty horrible situations because of it. This is an unnerving theme because we rarely examine that part of our relationships in the real world. And this is what great literature does, this is what the snooty literary pricks fail to recognize in genre fiction, it forces us to look and analyze what it means to be human. And Dixon's powerful novel does just that. Highly recommended.
Coming soon: An interview with Keith Dixon about the book, the craft of writing and his thoughts about The View. Don't miss it.