Posted by: dougery | August 31, 2011

Better Late Than Never… Oh the Hell With it Here’s a Book Review.

Reuben Munoz / Los Angeles Times

So I know what you’re asking yourselves, “Hey Goober, what happened to the Bond movie reviews?”

A reasonable question but you needn’t make with the name-calling. The truth is I have watched and enjoyed The Living Daylights, several weeks ago, however Netflix has since decided to cockblock me (flickbock me?) by keeping the second Timothy Dalton-as-007 movie, Licensed to Kill, and the next movie in the series, unavailable until the middle of September. Thus a review of the former will be composed shortly and I’m still on track to complete the series by year’s end.

In the mean time I read a very curious novel and would like to commandeer your time and patience by discussing it here.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers (2010) is an unusually good book. It pulls of the singular task of crossbreeding noirish crime fiction with good old fashioned American ghost stories. Think Kubrick’s The Shining meets something out of Donald Westlake or Elmore Leonard. Where hotel caretaking is mutated into bank robbing and the hotel itself is the American Great Depression. And the cleverest thing it does is give away everything right there in the title. Our heroes just aren’t going to make it. Many times over in fact.

Written by Thomas Mullen and set in middle America, the novel spends much of its time with the unexceptionally middle class family the Firesons. The group is composed of a father who has overextended his modest business success at the exact wrong time by foolishly investing in bad real estate, and his 3 sons who follow very different paths in his wake. Jason is goodlooking and not cut out for work in his Pop’s grocery store. He turns to rum-running during the prohibition and gets a rap sheet, spending a few years in prison. He’s terrified of turning out like his old man, and doing illegal things is more fun anyhow. Whit, the middle son, is the more socially conscious class hero of the 3. He is a communist sympathizer and a union man living in a city where over 50% of the population is unemployed. Gradually his brushes with the violent crackback against red activity leave him broken and destitute and he somewhat reluctantly sides with Jason as they form a gang. Which leaves only Weston at the store, until his father loses it. Weston loathes his brothers and is the idealistic one, sure that society and America will always reward hard work and faith. Except that society doesn’t, in fact, the Law makes his life miserable by having him fired and blacklisted when he refuses to aid in his brothers arrest.

So Jason and Whit form a bank robbing gang. And they are so good at what they do a legend grows around them. They become middle-class heroes after one of their number accidentally drops a cigar on some mortgages during a heist–Joe the plumber sees this as class warfare, a Robin Hood-esque attack against the rich. The Firefly brothers triumph against all odds–an easy story to get behind when you have little going for yourself.

And here is where the ghost story comes in. Right there at the start of the novel, before we find out who all these players are, Jason and Whit find themselves in a morgue, waking up from a fatal shootout. The entire novel progresses from here where we learn not so much how they have become resurrected as why they cannot stay dead.

In the long running Fables comicbook series, Bill Willingham has the ingenious conceit that his more popular characters (who all come from fairytales and children’s stories) can’t really be killed. They can become unpopular, weaken, go away for a spell, but they will always resurface, slightly changed, perhaps disfigured, not quite undead.

The Firefly brothers, so named by the media because of their way of rekindling, lighting up, blinking out and being swallowed up by the darkness, aren’t quite undead either. Part of the reason they can’t stay dead is because of the violence they have inflicted, on others, and themselves. The crime at the heart of the novel isn’t one of bank robbing but violence inflicted on a family from itself. A kind of pall falls down upon the Firesons from which they can’t escape. Jack Torrance is sinisterly reminded he’s always been the caretaker at the Overlook, a photograph at the end of the film proves this is so years before his birth. The fate of Jason and Whit are similarly predetermined.

I’m very surprised this book didn’t garner much attention upon its release last year. The themes, those above along with others, are all very vital and contemporary. The rising unemployment, the middle-class destruction, the demonization of anything even vaguely akin to socialism, above all the problem of wealth in America and how this problem is intricately woven into one family’s disintegration.

Jason, Whit, Weston and yeah, their father too, were all ghosts before they were born.

Reading: The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs



  1. Cool! But I know how to kill em… put em in a glass jar and forget to poke holes in the top. *Sad childhood memories*

  2. And another goes on the reading list…

  3. loading this on the kindle as i type.

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