Two of my favorite authors are Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski. Both are blue collar writers who encapsulate the mundane, disturbing, hapless, and tragic parts of everyday lives. Often, there is a great deal of humor underneath or simultaneously with these tragedies. Until recently, I had no idea that there is a term for this style and type of writing. It’s called “dirty realism.” The writing focuses more on the pain and suffering rather than the warm and fuzzy; the unhappiness rather than the happy; the trivial rather than the substantive. Both Carver and Bukowski have a very distinctive L.A. feel; although Bukowski was more skid row than Carver. Listen to some Tom Waits while you read either and you’ll feel right at home (I’d recommend Frank’s Wild Years and/or Swordfishtrombones). Now, before I get to rambling (or to put an end to it here and now), this Friday Reads isn’t about Carver or Bukowski. The problem is that I’ve already read their stuff (they are both dead), and for years have been searching for something with a similar feel. I finally found it when I discovered Larry Brown. Unfortunately, Larry Brown also died in 2004, but since I have yet to read any of his stuff, I feel refreshed. Well, sort of.
Like much (if not all) of Carver’s work, Larry Brown’s Big Bad Love is a collection of short stories. There are similarities, but Brown lived in Oxford, Mississippi, so the stories have a different, non-California feel to them. The stories are written from a male perspective, filled with alcoholics, depression, and tales of dysfunctional or failed relationships. I found the stores to be relatable (on some levels) and often hilarious. There is, however, a fine line between laughing at another’s misery and laughing with them. I had the latter feeling. There is something to say about retaining your sense of humor during life’s tragedies, and I think Brown aptly captures that, at least in part 1. Part 2 of the book consists of a longer story. I wouldn’t even recommend reading it. Compared to part 1, it’s a bore. Here’s a quote from part 1 that provides a snippet of Brown’s style:
“I didn’t know why something that started off feeling so good had to wind up feeling so bad. Love was a big word and it covered a lot of territory. You could spend your whole life chasing after it and wind up with nothing, be an old bitter guy with long nose hair and ear hair and no teeth, hanging out in bars, looking for somebody your age, but the chances of success went down then. After a while you got too many strikes against you.”