Saturday, January 03, 2009

David L. Wilson on Westlake

David Laurence Wilson whom I mentioned in one of the posts on Donald Westlake wrote some nice and interesting things about Westlake on the Rara-Avis e-mail list, so I thought I'd ask him for a permission to post those on this blog. David said: "Oh sure, Juri. I'm happy to honor the fellow." So, here's what he wrote:

Oh boy, this one hurts. Westlake and I had several friends in common and all of them spoke affectionately and respectfully of him, always. His personality was as large, it seems, as the shadow from his prose. Everyone else was in second place. I very much hoped to meet him and add him to my series of interviews with crime writers but we were never in the same place at the same time. A great writer who may be my all-time favorite, who convinced me again of the undying beauty of the novel and the mystery form. For many years there's been no one who I'd seek out in the bookstores like Westlake. A new Stark was an event for me. Just a great great loss. I have so few heros left.

Death seems to have greeted him as a professional, swift and sudden, without emotion or hesitation. A Westlake moment. Despite his subjects, and the controlled mayhem of his characters. Westlake was a writer of elegance and compassion. I was pleased last week because I'd found a copy of his first novel. I was going to quote from another of his books but I've pulled it out often enough that it wasn't filed with its cousins, a book he did not claim but that I returned to, on occasion, because it filled me with a great sense of love and balance, a recognition that we are all in this same game together. It consoled me and made some of life's challenges easier
to bear.

This is the life of a writer. You will touch the lives of those you have never met. You will help them through their own private hells and they will weep, someday, when you are gone.

I'll have to go and reread some of my favorite memories with the guy. He left us so much.

And then after a minute or two David came back with this:

I found the novel I was looking for though it's got another fellow's name on the cover, Alan Marshall. It reads like Westlake to me.

The last words of SINLAND are the ones I remember:

"I wonder what he was like inside.
"I'll never know, I guess, but that doesn't make much difference. Finding out what's inside yourself is enough of a victory for any man."

I think in one moment the balance shifted, and the ranks of the dead in this business have become much more acc omplished, more skillful in the dark beauty of crime writing, than those of us who remain. I have a habit of pulling books from the shelves, reading a few pages, maybe a chapter, a hello to old friends and they are always there, always ready for this one-way conversation. I get as much pleasure in rereading Westlake as I've had in confronting his plots for a first time. Now he has joined the past and that great tug-of-war between this day and the past has become a mismatch.

[NB: Sinland David is referring to is one of Westlake's pseudonymous sleaze novels, published in 1962.]

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow what a wonderful post.

So glad people can put into words what I feel about Donald Westlake.

I have 85 of his books, now I have to hunt down "Sinland."