I’ve been awaiting this eagerly, and Greg Tulonen has finally gotten the article done, and I’m going to post the link to his blog. Right here. Right now.
Honestly, I may be more excited about this than any article I’ve published here myself. This is a direct glimpse into a book Westlake hoped to publish in his lifetime, but was discouraged from doing so–perhaps for good reason. Perhaps not. It’s certainly different from anything he wrote before or since, going by Greg’s very detailed synopsis (detailed by TWR standards, so even though it’s impossible to say whether this book will ever see print–spoiler alert–Greg has prudently omitted some details about the ending).
Sometimes Westlake’s best books were precisely the ones that radically diverged from what people expected from him. Sometimes those books were miscalculations (we’ll be getting to one of those soon enough, but that got published, so go figure).
But always, invariably, he revealed something of himself in these outliers of his, and to me, the most sacred thing about any writer’s legacy is the indelible imprint it leaves us of a human soul, a human intellect–a human life. So except under very exceptional circumstances (like somebody will die if it’s published), I’m for getting it out there, and letting the readers decide. And if it’s Donald E. Westlake, well obviously I’m pre-sold, and if you’re reading this blog, probably you are too.
Is Go Set a Watchman the masterpiece fans of Harper Lee’s only book published in her lifetime dreamed of? Hell no. It’s a deeply flawed and often disturbing piece of work, that shows how conflicted she was about her origins, her hometown, her family, her father, her race, herself. In its own right, it is not a great book, but in reading it, don’t we know her better? And respect her achievements in life all the more?
Fall of the City sounds to me like a book that could have sold very well if it had been marketed properly, perhaps reaching a whole new audience for Westlake. That’s neither here nor there–today, it would be of interest primarily to Westlake readers. Some of whom would love it. Others would find it an intriguing but ultimately irrelevant artifact of a great career. And some might actively dislike it. But don’t we all deserve a chance to decide for ourselves?
Well, it’s not our call. And it shouldn’t be. Copyright laws exist for a reason, and are heritable for equally good reasons. And they eventually expire, also for good reasons. But since I can be fairly sure I’ll expire before this book goes into the public domain….
A synopsis is not a book. I can’t offer an informed opinion as to who was right or wrong with regards to the worthiness of this manuscript now languishing in an archive in Boston. I’ll say this much–I’ve learned to greatly respect the judgment of Mr. Tulonen when it comes to fiction of any kind, and certainly with regards to Westlake. And without further ado, here is his synopsis and assessment of Fall of the City.
PS: Since I could imagine some people avoiding the comments section to avoid discussion of plot elements (which so far hasn’t occurred there), let me mention here–Greg just found out from Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime, that the manuscript is being edited for publication there, as I type this. We’re going to get to decide for ourselves how good a book this is. Now that’s what I call prompt service.