Friday, November 07, 2008

Review: Dirt by Mark LaFlamme

Mark LaFlamme’s Dirt: An American Campaign

SPECIAL NOTE! Catch Mark LaFlamme in a rare Portland appearance at the noontime Brown Bag Lunch lecture series at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland, Maine, on Wednesday, November 12th.

Graveyards, resurrected love, backroads intrigue – these ingredients cause no great stretch of the imagination for a confessed fan of fellow Mainer, Stephen King, and his predecessors, including Edgar Allan Poe.

Like King, LaFlamme is a tricky writer. He lures you in by seeming ordinary, but there is something residing in his texts, in his characters’ dialogues and inner monologues, that goes beyond that threshold of normalcy and expectations. Before I know it, he’s got me again. This is not an unhappy thing. The pages have to be turned, but this is a pleasure, as the story plays out before me – he’s done all the work. I cannot turn away until finally I reach the end.

This was true of the first LaFlamme book I read, The Pink Room, and remains true of his latest, Dirt. What makes this guy from Lewiston such a crafter of thought-provoking page-turners? I can only guess that it’s this – he is not afraid of hard work. This is a man who spends day and night pounding the crime beat for the Lewiston Sun Journal. Off the news desk, he writes books and short stories, which the rest of us get to read. He is not going to waste our time.

The greater world hasn’t picked up on him yet. He’s still mostly ours at this point, here in the state of Maine. This doesn’t stop him from weaving more widely traveled threads into his work.

In Dirt, LaFlamme focuses through the lens of the all-too-familiar worldview of the American Presidential campaign. Don’t look for the all-American glamour that comes from power in this story. It’s buried under dirt.

Maine Governor Frank F. Cotton is raging up through the ranks as a distinguished contender for the Republican nomination. His image is that of hardy Maine stock, hard-working, honest, stern but engaging. The press knows his son Calvin as a recent widower and a staunch white-collar environmentalist, a lawyer who pushes back against the big boys his father pals around with. What the press doesn’t know, and what Frank Cotton doesn’t want them to find out, is that his grieving son is also unable to wrap his mind around the death of his wife, Bethany.

While Frank Cotton has been running his campaign state to state across the country, Calvin Cotton has very quietly lost his mind, and fetched his lovely bride from her funereal box for one last lovely New England winter getaway.

It is Thomas Cashman’s job to fetch them both back, as privately as possible. He can’t think of anyone better to help than Billy Baylor. In his role as best-selling novelist, Baylor explored the theme of love after death thoroughly and repeatedly, until his career was interrupted by the death of his wife and young daughter in a random accident. Since then, Baylor hasn’t had much of a thought about anything but misery and beer.

Governor Cotton calls Cashman. Cashman finds Baylor. Together they track Calvin and Bethany, with the hounds of the press at their heels.

If you open one box of worms, you often find another. And another. And another. And boy do those worms like dirt.

I won’t ruin it for you – read it yourself.


Mark LaFlamme said...

Hot damn! It's pretty humbling, Michelle, when a review is more taut and more exquisitely written than the book it describes. Very astute and well worded review! Thanks a ton.

JaxPop said...

What a great post & review for a terrific book & the reasonably decent / though quirky / funny / hard workin' Mark LaFlamme. Just ordered Pink Room recently - guess that means I'm reading in reverse. The word is gonna spread - I'm a fan from Florida & can't wait for Flammer's next effort. Good Job.

Martha Miller said...

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