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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bottom Liner Blues. K.C.Constantine. The Mysterious Press (1993)

A glorious book that uses the bare ghost of a crime story to explore the lives of astonishing cast in a decaying, post-industrial town in Pennsylvania. Mario Balzic is the Chief of Police in Rocksburg, Pennsylvania, a town whose decaying industrial past hang heavy over its uncertain future. On patrol due to staff shortages Mario answers a call about a woman who wants to talk to a police officer. The woman is concerned that her partner intends to violently attack another man and she wants to head off the trouble before it begins. This plot thread and the unexpected outcome are the explicit crime elements to the story and are one of the smallest elements in the book. They are not neglected by K.C. Constantine, they are savagely played out in an unexpected and deeply engaging way. It is that they are not the heart of the story in the way that might be expected.
K.C. Constantine has made a absurdly difficult story problem appear easy, with deceptive skill he has developed a cast that speak with truly individual voices and clearly articulated accents  who are never just a range on mouths on legs. They have a physical presence, subtly drawn in to anchor their talking in a real world context. Rocksburg is given the room to emerge as the broken context for the lives of the cast and the decline of the town is a force that binds them together. Nothing is said in a vacuum, the setting is as vital as the words that swirl around it.
The heart of the book is Mario Balzac and the astonishing cast that surrounds him and more importantly, the way that they talk. At one point a cast member asks the question "How do you know you are alive?" The abundant answer provided in a glorious, astonishing, and utterly compelling way is by talking, the cast talk. The cast pour out words by the yard, they reveal, hide, reveal, confuse and discover themselves and each other in an astounding torrent of talk without ever uttering a single superfluous word. Mario Balzic has a life changing conversation with his wife which never falls into mere dialogue, it is a heartfelt attempt to communicate across the wide spaces that separate us. This need to communicate, to be understood is the force behind the taking in the book. No one wants to simply be heard, they want to to be understood and recognized for who they are. Each member of the cast gets an opportunity to reveal themselves and they take it with both hands and give it the best they can. They are not babbling, they are carefully and eloquently taking the reader into their confidence and speaking up for themselves.
Everyone in the book is under increasing pressure and trying to manage it, they all choose different ways and as they collide with each other, as they attempt to explain why they are the generous and steely sympathy that K.C. Constantine has for his cast shines through all the time. No one is let off easy, actions have sharp consequences, everyone gets their chance to explain themselves.
Holding his cast  and the reader with graceful care, K.C. Constantine has written a compelling book that rings true on every page and delivers a consistently unexpected delight and pleasure.

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