Thursday, October 23, 2008

Early Furst

Right now I'm reading The Paris Drop, one of Alan Furst's first spy novels, published in 1980. It's great fun, partly because even then Furst was a master at setting a scene with telling details -- the "furniture" that draws in a reader -- and partly because he was in love with the tricks he could play with language, as so many young writers are.

In this novel about a young wiseacre New Yorker who serves as a bagman for a shady Israeli institution he could be endearingly witty (one woman was "a pain in search of an ass"). Some of his images could also go way over the top ("Paris, like a crotch, smelled both wonderful and terrible").

Early on Furst sharpened his inimitable powers of description. One chapter begins with a long paragraph describing the variegated skies over the United States ("the sky over New York is shipped in from Maine, so it is a little cold, a little unforgiving, a sky inhabited by a score-keeping God, if God lives in the sky"). Then he winds up with this description of the sky over Paris:

"But, getting out of that 747, here is a SKY. And the sky is blue. It is the bluest goddam thing to be seen on this earth, bluer than eyes, oceans, Bessie Smith, or any other celebrity of blueness. It is an aristocratic, kiss-my-ass blue, with lots of black hidden in it. That's the secret in mixing up a proper sky, you've got to have the dark energies, well blended but definitely there, because if you don't your sky will be light-washed. Sweet, but vague. And I immediately understand why people come here to paint. There is one hard-edge cloud, a fatty, piled up to the ceiling, off in a corner, borders cut with a circular miter box and there for only one purpose: to bring the trebles in that sky up stronger."

Now that's a writer.

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