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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gorky Park (1981, film 1983)

I read Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith back when it first came out and loved it. As part of my new fitness program I’m doing a lot of brisk walking as my doctor says this will balance out the crazy amount of cycling that I do. I hate walking and running but if I have to do it I want to kill two birds. On my walks I have been listening to recorded books.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found much in French and Spanish to improve my language skills. English books I got, and lots of them. I have been listening to Gorky Park on my recent walks and I have to say that I underappreciated this book the first time around. His skill as a writer is apparent in every paragraph.

I don’t think the author had visited the Soviet Union before writing the novel yet he seems to totally nail the communist mentality. Maybe he served in the American military where this extreme version of kiss-ass careerism is de rigueur.  The Soviet anti-hero in the book, Arkady Renko is a police investigator who almost completely against his will is forced into a murder investigation. He has no use for the communist party or its trappings of benefits and promotions for the elite. Arkady hates the system yet he is ironically the best communist in the story, right down to the shitty soviet cigarettes he smokes. The story in Gorky Park takes a backseat to the descriptions of Soviet life and the characters. But it’s not like the story is lacking at all, it’s just that the protagonist steals the show in almost every passage.

There are almost countless memorable scenes in the book and one of my favorites is when Arkady visits a friend who has just purchased a new Soviet-made washing machine that he waited ten months to get. “Very highly rated,” his friend tells him to which Arkady replies, “And not in the least bourgeois.” Arkady is definitely not bourgeois, not in the least and he continues to be underwhelmed by the washer.

Misha had crammed four underpants into the spin dryer. At that rate,
Arkady estimated, moving laundry from the agitator tub to the spin dryer and on to the
communal clothesline, a week's wash could be done in . . . a week.

The machine is a total piece of crap and as he is showing Arkady how it works it goes haywire and is on the verge of exploding before Arkady has the sense to pull the plug.

'A little problem, love,' Misha said. 'The washer isn't quite working.'
'That's all right. We can still show it to people.'
She seemed genuinely content.

Don’t ask me why—it’s a long story—but I speed-read a chic lit novel on Sunday morning called Something Borrowed that was evidently some sort of best seller and is not a movie. This book is absolutely one of the biggest pieces of shit I have ever read. I defy anyone to point out one paragraph that has any sort of craft in the writing, and forget about the plot. The entire book reads like a run-on sentence written by a spoiled suburbanite teen, which probably isn’t far from the truth. Gorky Park is probably filed under thrillers in by librarians yet it completely transcends the genre. It was popular and, like the ridiculous chic lit novel, was made into a film but what a difference in artistic merit between these two books.

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