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Crime and Lowlifes

A friend regrets to inform me that she won't be reading Wire to Wire. Crime novels aren't her thing, it seems. And she's not too keen on reading about lowlifes, either.

I was a little thrown by this. Wait a minute, I wanted to reply. There's been a misunderstanding here. I never expected you to read my novel. I merely expected you to buy it.

After all, W2W is handsomely designed. It would look great on your bookshelf — and having it there would be good insurance against being included in my next novel. (Or being ridiculed on a blog. Too late for that, I guess.)

I didn't actually say any of those things, of course. Still, there has been a misunderstanding. First of all, Wire to Wire isn't really a crime novel. If anything, it's an homage to the crime novel. Basically, it takes pieces of the genre and puts them together in what I hope are unexpected ways.Wire to Wire isn't really a crime novel. If anything, it's an homage to the crime novel. Basically, it takes pieces of the genre and puts them together in what I hope are unexpected ways. (Which is the same way I built the tree house where I wrote much of W2W, by the way. It's not really a tree house. It's an homage to a tree house.) Besides, the real issue is love, not crime. At least for me.

As for lowlifes... well, true, the characters of Wire to Wire ride freights, break laws, sleep around, hallucinate, listen to rowdy music, and commit various acts of violence. Beyond that, they're just like you and me.

Wait, that's wrong — it's all those bad things they do that make them just like us. Roll with this for a second: In some novels, we meet characters who initially appear perfectly normal. They have good marriages, professional jobs, and nice homes, perhaps in the suburbs of St. Paul. You could invite them into your living room and fear no evil.

But then the author gradually peels back the layers, and the fun begins. Beneath the veneer, all sorts of unholy crap is revealed. It turns out these normal-looking people are desperately flawed in fascinating ways. In what's broken or bent, maybe we see some version of ourselves. In any case, the story is engaged, and we're off and running.

Other novels turn that around. In Wire to Wire, we meet the two main characters on top of a moving boxcar, challenged by the complicated task of lighting a joint. Clearly, neither of these guys is gonna be parking in the "Employee of the Month" slot anytime soon or making speeches to the Rotary. For everyone in Wire to Wire, it's raining from the first and they're out there dying from the thirst: No layer-peeling is required to see how messed up they are.

But some layer-peeling still occurs. Underneath the unwashed exteriors, their lives aren't low at all. They're dealing with the highest sorts of issues, the same ones that affect you and me. Love, loyalty, the need to connect. They're out there on the wire, and vulnerable, or so I claim; as the reader, you'd be a better judge.

Yes, they're crunchy on the outside. So in that sense maybe my friend is right. Maybe you wouldn't want these guys in your living room. They'd be okay in mine, but my carpeting's already ruined, and I have a high tolerance for extremes. The fact that these characters are messed up, can't hide it, and live in some fairly dark places doesn't turn me off; it's what appeals to me. Because in the darkness, as the Springsteen line goes, are hidden worlds that shine.

If that kind of darkness — in the freight yards or at the edge of town — holds some fascination for you as well, you might like Wire to Wire. If not, maybe, like my friend, you shouldn't read it.

But it would still look great on your bookshelf.

÷ ÷ ÷

Scott Sparling grew up near railroad tracks in Southern Michigan and later attended Antioch College. Wire to Wire is his first novel. Large portions of it were written in Northern Michigan, Seattle, Portland, and in a tree house near Sucker Lake. He now lives outside Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Wire to Wire (Tin House New Voice)
    Used Trade Paper $5.50

Scott Sparling is the author of Wire to Wire (Tin House New Voice)

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