Since Les Edgerton is not only a mentor but a friend of mine, let there be no pretense of objectivity here. Writer Working regulars know that I usually link up to a bio the first time I mention a writer’s name in one of these commentaries. Here, though, you have to read the book. That’s the bio that matters. Just Like That is, he says, more than 80% autobiographical, though he gives only a peek at what is and isn’t fiction in the intro.
What is real is a look into the criminal world. Not just a peep show, either.
Just Like that opens with a couple of ex-cons on a road trip. they travel from Indiana to Louisiana in a picaresque adventure, flexing their freedom, fighting and stealing as they go. Nothing serious, just to get along. Here’s where we start to understand a little of what goes on between the ears of outlaws. Actually, we begin to realize that we don’t understand at all. We get a brief look, like at a passing train. We don’t understand because they don’t either, and they don’t spend much time reflecting about it. Early on, Jake goes into a convenience store for the same reason everyone else does–pick up a few supplies. A couple of fairly insignificant things happen, and he suddenly adjourns to his car, where he grabs his pistol, walks back in, robs the place. Even threatens to blow a little boy’s kneecap if he doesn’t obey his mother. Why? He doesn’t know. He could use the cash, sure, but there’s not much of that. He has no plan about before, after, or during. Just does it.
I’m reminded of the character Richie Nix in Elmore Leonard’s Killshot who shoots and robs on impulse. Something rang true to me about Richie. Les’s Jake, drawn from his own experience, seems to confirm that truth. Most of these crimes are the product of unplanned, indiscriminate action. Look for plot, planning, goals, you’re looking for something you won’t find.
Just Like That doesn’t stay on the road, though. It migrates to the most unpicaresque environment imaginable–the penitentiary. Jake has recidivist buds there, and they engage in a number of survivalist actions that, unlike most of their actions “on the bricks [outside], do take some planning and plotting. Enthralling reading. Lean and mean, unscented and unflowered prose.
The characters–especially Jake–do engage in some reflection here. He even reads and rereads Moby Dick. He delivers a couple very instructive rants about how much you can trust the veracity of Hollywood’s version of prison life (Hint: Not at all.) [There are a couple of puzzling repetitions of these. Bad editing? Making sure the reader gets the point? Dunno.]
Jakes musings also include lots of contemplation of relationships–hetero-, homo-, undefinable-sexual.
Two of the points I hadn’t thought about–a big reason for the dearth of true inside info–MSNBC’s wall-to-wall Lockup included–about prisons are, first, so many hard-core inmates are semi-literate that they couldn’t write true accounts if they wanted to. Which they don’t. Second, they’re never going to tell a camera or a reporter what they tell their colleagues. They’ll proclaim their innocence to the ends of the earth if you ask them. If their cellmate asks them? Fuckin’ A I did it, and a lot more. and it was fun.
And so is Just Like That fun. And scary. To be able to run around the world with that kind of abandon. Even us regular citizens love the idea. If we had the guts. Or the idiocy. Or whatever it takes. Just Like That does have what it takes.
Kindle book. Amazon. Don’t have a Kindle? You can download it to your PC or Mac. Les will tell you how on his Lesedgertononwriting blog. And/or he’ll personally instruct you at your house. And bring the beer. Of course, as he reminds us, he does write fiction.
Writer Working signing off. You’re on your own.