Men Are Swine

Someone asked me about the Lawrence Block epigraph that appears on my About page, assuming that I either made it up or lifted it from somewhere and that it wasn’t really about me. Au contraire, the great mystery novelist addressed it directly to me.

I got hooked on Block’s Matt Scudder mysteries in the mid-nineties. By my third or fourth one I got Barbara hooked, too. The thing about the Scudder books was that our hero progressed from book to book. Each story was separate, standing on its own, but Scudder moved forward in life. As I recall, at the start he was a recovering alcoholic who’d been a cop till he accidentally shot and killed a little girl. This led to his quitting the force, wrecking his family, and becoming a drunk. Eventually he’s living in a hotel room, solving crimes as favours for friends, going to AA meetings, and hanging out with a mobster in the mobster’s club, telling stories and exchanging observations on the mysteries of life. By about the twelfth book (A Long Line of Dead Men, I think) he’s getting his shit together, has a girlfriend, an ex-hooker by the name of Elaine, and it looks like they’ll be getting married.

These are great books. Scudder is a fascinating, realistic, and finely etched, three-dimensional character. You get drawn in and even at his worst you root for the guy. All of a sudden, while investigating a murder he becomes attracted to the victim’s widow and eventually sleeps with her. Par for the usual mystery novel course, but Matt’s got this great thing happening with Elaine. What gives? I’m mildly thrown by this but I’m a guy, after all, and I shrug it off. Not Barbara. She’s really pissed off at Matt. This is no good. I write Block a letter which winds up, “When she got to where Matt sleeps with Lisa she got very upset. She gives me no peace about this Matt/Lisa thing. What do I tell her?”

“Tell her men are swine.”

That’s good enough for me and explains everything as far as I’m concerned, but Barbara doesn’t buy it. By this time, the new book, Even the Wicked, comes out. To this point I’ve been getting the books from the public library or buying paperback editions in second-hand shops. Which means at least a year after the book’s out before reading it. I tell Block I have to know what happens next right away. “There’s no way around it”, I say. “I’m gonna have to go out and buy the hardback, brand new.”

“I like your thinking, Brian.”

Update (Sept 15, 2006):
I sent this story to Block and he replied,

“Damn, Brian. I still like your thinking.


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