AS HE turns 70 Les Edgerton must be fearing the 'veteran author' tag, but going on the reviews of his latest novel, The Rapist, he might be getting closer to the term 'immortal'.
Commentators - universal in their praise - have alighted upon the book's vivid, fresh feel of something completely new; the eye-opening premise and the equally shock-inducing title may be part of the reason. But only part.
There is clearly a unique talent at play in Edgerton's new story and the plot thickens even more when you discover he penned the book some 26-years ago.
The Rapist is an outstanding read - don't take my word for it, though. Try these names on for size, they know what they're talking about:
"Les Edgerton presents an utterly convincing anti-hero. The abnormal psychology is pitch-perfect. The Rapist ranks right up there with Camus' The Stranger and Simenon's Dirty Snow." -Allan Guthrie
"The breathlessness, nausea, anger and confusion increase all the way to the end, at which point all I know is that the book is genius." -Helen Fitzgerald
"I wouldn't say that, after you finishing reading The Rapist, you're going to have a feeling of satisfaction. In fact I strongly suggest you're going to feel as if you've just walked out of a House of Mirrors. You certainly will be confused, shocked, and puzzled. But you will realize that you've just read something amazingly original. Truly, magnificently, original." -B.R. Stateham
I spoke to Edgerton about finding the right moment to launch The Rapist on an unsuspecting reading public.
Tony Black: I wonder if there is such a thing as a typical Les Edgerton work. The Rapist is a quite exceptional novel.
Les Edgerton: Thank you, Tony—I really appreciate that! I’m also not sure what a “typical” work for me would be. A lot of people today are only familiar with my last few novels, but I’ve also written a coming-of-age novel, a YA semi-horror novel, several baseball books, business books, etc. My first story collection, Monday’s Meal (which I consider my best work probably) would be considered “literary” and was—the NY Times compared me to Raymond Carver and several universities did studies on it and it got starred review in places like the Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.
Where did the idea for The Rapist come from?
I had two stories in mind that provided the impetus. The first was a brilliant short story of Charles Bukowski’s, The Fiend, and the second was the ending in Richard Brautigan’s novel, A Confederate General from Big Sur.
I feel that Bukowski’s story is the bravest example of literature I’ve ever read and wanted to see if I could match his guts in writing it. Brautigan’s ending in his brilliant novel represented the best definition I’ve ever read for our existence and God and humanity and what’s really going on in the universe. Just tried to marry them up.
Even talking about the book now I have a slight uneasiness about the title and it's not a pretty subject - I'm presuming it was a hard sell . . .
It is a hard sell to the public because of the title and I knew it would be going in. However, I’m the poster boy for being against anything politically correct, so if it suffers in sales because of the title, so be it. It’ll keep the kind of mushhead that follows PCism out of the pages of it so that’s good and worth the tradeoff.
You handle the story with a kind of matter-of-factness that's unavoidable - were you consciously employing this as a shock tactic?
Nope. It’s just the way I see the world. A psychologist would call me a sociopath or psychopath. Actually, that’s pretty much what the prison shrink in Pendleton called me. Probably accurate . . . I just can’t get all worked up about death or crime. It’s just part of life. I have pretty much an amoral view of the world. Shit happens . . . Get over it . . .
The prose in The Rapist is beautiful - it really set me in mind of Nabokov - rhythms in your prose are obviously important, how hard do you work at those?
Not at all. I just . . . write. That sounds arrogant and if so, so be it. Writing has always come easily to me—I imagine it’s because I’ve read voraciously all my life. It’s how we learn to write—by reading—and so the rhythms and all of that are pretty well ingrained in my brain and subconscious. I really don’t think about much when I’m writing. Just get it down. I don’t rewrite at all. Just about every book I’ve written is the way it came out in the first draft
And, however others judge my writing, it’s been the same since I began.
Up until recently, I wasn’t quite as honest as I am these days about my writing, and tried to come across as this humble, self-effacing dude. I turned 70 a month ago and something has happened to me. I’m pretty sure I don’t have long to go—have severe COPD among other things—and suddenly it’s important to me that I say exactly what I think. That pisses folks off, but at this point, so what . . . Not enough writers are pissing people off these days, methinks. It’s become a lost art. We’re all too concerned about building those “platforms” and gaining “friends.” I’ve got enough friends and most of them just want to borrow my lawnmower. The friends I cultivate mostly are writers I admire and respect.
I also think that too often we want to combine the author and the work in one. As in the work defines the person behind it. I hope that I’m more than that. At least my wife doesn’t confuse the two . . . I have more than one author whose work I absolutely adore and have absolutely no desire to hang out with them or adopt their politics. And, I’m pretty sure they feel the same about me. And, that’s perfectly all right.
What means a lot to me is when you give my work a compliment as you did above, Tony. In my view, this isn’t praise from some anonymous Amazon reviewer who doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about, but represents an opinion I value because I value the level of work the person delivers to the world.
I’m glad you used Nabokov for your example, Tony, as I subscribe to his view on literature wholeheartedly. He said he didn’t believe in any genre other than “good writing” and “bad writing.” I feel precisely the same.
I also understand the comparison to Humbert and others have made the same observation. Personally, I think Truman compares more closely to the Bukowski character Martin in “The Fiend.” Which reminds me—my dream of complete and utter success would be to do the same as Bukowski did and collaborate with the brilliant artist R. Crumb in a joint work. If anyone out there is friends with Mr Crumb . . . The Rapist, I think, would be right up his alley . . . I’d love to send him a copy . . .
Market-wise, literary fiction is over. If folks don’t believe that, look at the sales figures. Look at the shelf space literary fiction is given these days in comparison to other books. It’s been drastically cut back just in the past seven years and is being cut back even more.
But, it hasn’t. It’s only been reduced if you buy the academic’s definition of literary fiction. Their silly definition that literary fiction is “character-based” while genre or “commercial” fiction is “plot-based” or driven. That’s a wholly bogus definition to begin with. Character and plot are equally important and each depends on the other in equal proportion in any worthwhile book and the emphasis of one over the other doesn’t determine if it’s literary or commercial, except in the minds of the definer. Plot—causal plot--is simply what reveals and defines character. It’s how the character reacts and acts toward the obstacles encountered in the story that deliver a character and a character arc. If there is no or if there is little plot, then it’s not “literary” at all. In fact, it’s largely unreadable. Those kinds of books are simply a writer regurgitating his or her largely bullshit thoughts as he contemplates his boring-ass navel that no one except writers of like ilk care anything about, and they only care about it as it reflects the stuff they’re typing and hope some other mindless literary type publishes.
Writers like Joe Lansdale, Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, Tom Franklin, Neil Smith, Richard Godwin, Paul D. Brazill—yourself, for God’s sakes!--and a thousand other writers are writing gorgeous fiction that in any intelligent view of what is literary and what is not, is just that—literary fiction, provided the definition simply means the best writing. The academics don’t consider it such, but who cares what they think except for a few, under-read college freshmen who haven’t yet learned to think for themselves and make their own value judgments?
:: The Rapist is published by NEW PULP PRESS and is available now on Amazon.