Friday, January 17, 2014

Bring Your Legs with You, by Darrell Spencer

America, in other words, is a very poor lens through which to view Las Vegas, while Las Vegas is a wonderful lens through which to view America.
— Dave Hickey, Air Guitar
Which might explain why Bring Your Legs with You, written by (full disclosure) a long-ago professor of mine, seems like the most American novel I've read since reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle, three years ago.

Some backstory: While escorting me through BYU's undergraduate English program, Darrell consistently argued for the value of provincial, hardboiled American fiction. He didn't want Tuscany or Paris; he wanted—as our common mentor, François Camoin once said said—a 7-eleven in Nebraska. Maybe impulsively (maybe not), Darrell declared Ray the greatest American novel of the last 25 years. You want American Lit.? Then read Hammett. Read Chandler. Read Wise Blood. Read early Carver. If you'd like, take a shot at Lot 49. And read Ray. You've got to read Ray.

And, as often as possible, go to Las Vegas.

So I'm with Hickey: I suspect that Bring Your Legs with You is a fantastic lens through which to view modern American life—with its scammers, its dreamers, its lovers, its killers—because it's a Las Vegas novel: provincial, hardboiled, desert-hot, sexy, tough-guy lyrical, and suspicious of hope (optimism just about always being a sign of deluded thinking).

Through a series of interconnected stories, we follow the possible-comeback of Tommy Rooke, one-time heavyweight contender, and his band of all-American merry-making schemers. Most of the stories are self-contained masterpieces; a couple of them felt like they served primarily to keep the narrative rolling. Regardless, they all reflect Spencer's extraordinary ear for the music of modern American English.

I haven't seen Darrell in many years. But I suppose an author's best company should be his books. Regardless, Bring your Legs with You is wonderful company. Ten years have passed since its publication—which is fine. After all, Roberto Bolaño, who knew a thing or two about literature, once said that the first requirement of a masterpiece is that it pass unnoticed. At least it's out there. And, like Spencer's toughs, it's ready when you are.

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