Some of my friends are probably getting sick of hearing me evangelize about the greatness of the late Don Carpenter, but yesterday I took it to a whole new level by extolling him on national French radio.
I guess now is a good time to mention that I'm in Paris for the "Keep Portland Weird" festival, a week-long, multi-museum event devoted to the culture, mostly musical, of my (and Powell's) hometown. Apparently the festival happens every year, usually devoted to larger places like Berlin or Istanbul, but this time they've cast their gaze our way.
Don Carpenter is a writer with Portland roots. His first novel, Hard Rain Falling (1966), is currently one of my favorites. It's a book characterized on occasion as a crime or prison novel, and while that's true in a way, and the book does spend its share of pages in a world of petty crime, prostitution, pool halls, and prisons, it's really a work of much greater ambition than that. George Pelecanos calls it possibly "the most unheralded important American novel of the '60s," and that seems about right, what with its prescient take on issues of race, sex, class, labor, and human morality, and the emotional and psychological richness of its main character, a rage-filled orphan on a journey to fatherhood. It's a book of constant brutality and violence, but at heart it is an incredibly warm and affectionate read. If there is a characteristic Don Carpenter sentence it is, "I liked him." In Hard Rain Falling, for instance, after the main character Jack is beaten and arrested by cops, he ends the scene this way: "I felt glad. I really liked that cop. He told me the truth, that cop did, and I really liked him for it. I wanted to reach out and kiss him, or at least shake his hand. He was a good cop." That's Don Carpenter all over the place.
Hard Rain Falling is his only book currently in print in America (thank you New York Review of Books) and it has just been translated into French. So yesterday I went on the radio with the French translator, Celine Leroy, and former Portland-based musician, the endlessly talented Tara Jane O'Neill. It was a funny show. Celine has a paralyzed vocal chord and I don't speak French, so the technical challenges were kind of daunting, but somehow they orchestrated a pretty fluid conversation, I think, greased by the dulcet tunes of Tara Jane. I'm told the publication of Hard Rain Falling (Sale Temps four les Braves in French) landed front-page review coverage in Le Monde.
Do you hear that America? How about someone getting Class of '49 back into print now? Or From a Distant Place? Or Blade of Light? Let's get Mr. Carpenter back on the shelves.
Or onto the Kindle, or whatever people are using these days.
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Jon Raymond is the author of the novel The Half-Life and the short story collection Livability. He is the writer of several films, including Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, and cowriter of the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. Raymond lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family. Rain Dragon is his second novel.
Books mentioned in this post
Jon Raymond is the author of Rain Dragon