Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Daniel Hecht

Finished Bones of the Barbary Coast by Daniel Hecht. Wonderful, lush prose and vivid storytelling, an active main character, and adherence to Point of View make this title well worth reading. Three characters form a triangle of point of view, so that the mistaken notions of one are revealed in the point of view of another. This is effective novel writing. A fourth point of view makes itself known in the journal entries of a dead character, writing from the 1880s.

Hecht deftly works the theme of werewolf, the savage beast within, into the story, as Cree Black's allegiance changes over the course of the novel from her uncle Bert to Ray, a mysterious, deformed figure with strange ideas, who Bert has tangled with in the past. Both men must confront their inner beasts and Hecht uses point of view so extremely well, that there is a seamless transfer of the reader's allegiance, along with Cree's, from Bert to Ray.

I'm not giving too much away here, I hope, since the central mystery, the McGuffin, or raison d'etre, is the Wolfman--a skeleton found in the basement of a San Francisco house. The mystery of the Wolfman's origin forms the scaffold on which the novel is hung--with the character arcs forming all the connective mortar of the story.

Hecht understands physicality in a way that few writers do. His description of action, in particular is based in the physicality of the character from whose point of view he's writing. For Bert, it's dancing, and his heart, for Ray, his sheer exuberant masculine strength. Hecht's description of the thought process during one of the character's deaths (sorry--you have to read to find out which one) rings so emotionally true, that the reader is satisfied that this was contemplated deeply before being set down on the page. We can only ask that much of those whose writing we trust to read.

I note here, sadly, that I listened to the audio version of the book, which was narrated by Anna Fields, who died in a freak accident a year or so ago here in Seattle. She was gifted.

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