Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Heard: 'The Sweet Forever" by George Pelecanos

Heard: The Sweet Forever by George Pelecanos, 2002, download. Very good narration by Cary Hite.

Pelecanos's novels are a tough read (listen) for me. He sticks me in the middle of people and culture I do not understand. He has people living in ways - cocaine partiers, racist street cops, ghetto crime  - that make no sense to me. Plus,the slang throws me off.  Pelecanos has good people living through rough times and bad people enjoying the rough times. Even the good guys can be sketchy and violence is often the only option left for them. 

I'm not sure if I read other books in this series. Sweet is a snapshot of cocaine and growing street crime in D.C. in 1986. Cocaine parties and good times precede the coming wave of crack cocaine. The story takes place in March during the NCAA tournament and everything is shadowed by the characters' constant praise and admiration for the soon-to-be-dead Len Bias. The book is full of pop culture music, basketball, and a city saddled with the graft and incompetence of cocaine loving Marion Barry.

Marcus Clay owns three record stores in the D.C. area. He just opened a new one in a rougher neighborhood. Clay's lifelong friend Dimitri Karras helps manage the stores and is burning his candle with booze on one end and cocaine on the other. They get mixed up with dirty cops, neighborhood cocaine dealers, a dumb gangster trying to be extra hard, boys without supervision playing gangster or hooky, an appliance repairman stealing drug money from a burning car, romantic trouble, and parenting difficulty.

Pelecanos gives you characters rich in personality; none of Pelecanos's people are cookie cutter or plot props. You get to know the people and understand why they do the things they do.  The drug money thief is a sad sack in love with a woman who wants money and it's status. He knows she cheats on him, and he doesn't care as long as she stays with him. With an extra few thousand from the burning care the man thinks he can keep her.

1. Narrator Hite really performs this novel. He's telling the story, not reading the story.
2. You do not remember Len Bias? Even I remember Bias. As a star for Maryland Bias was a huge name in college basketball. Bias celebrated his NBA draft pick with some cocaine and died from cocaine intoxication.


Graham Powell said...

I devoured Pelecanos' books beginning in the late 90s. I remember less about this than any of the others, except that I thought it was good. Compared with stuff like The Big Blowdown or King Suckerman, nothing about the characters or plot stood out. But I did think it was good.

SteveHL said...
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Mathew Paust said...

Hsven't read any Pelecanos, but his milieu sounds like Robert Stone's. Tough neighborhoods.

SteveHL said...

If you lived in Boston and were at least, say, 14 years old in 1986 when Len Bias died, you remember him. The Celtics drafted him before he overdosed. Everyone in Boston blamed the lack of championships following 1986 on Bias's death, right up until the Celtics' next championship in 2008.

I like almost everything I have read by Pelecanos. As you said though, he has an incredible knowledge of pop music, even in fields most people don't know anything about (such as soundtracks from western movies), and makes that a large part of every book.

(Sorry if you get this twice.)