Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Holy warrior of writing

Crusader's Cross, by James Lee Burke, 2005.
I keep returning to James Lee Burke, whose many novels overflow one of my bookshelves, and whose genius for resonant titles entice me to pick up yet another unread volume. His prose is carved out of compassion, disillusion, and a longing for manifestation of true spirit in an evil world. Particularly the world of his most famous character, police detective Dave Robicheaux. This is a typical Robicheaux tale: the seedy and splendid rural Louisiana setting, the conscienceless low-lifes and ordinary saints, the hero flawed to a fault, battling his demons while trying to put down the depraved bad guys. Burke weaves his skein of vivid descriptions and terse dialogue to portray a world, not merely deliver a plot. The narrative is not airless. There are moments of peace, of beauty, where Robichaux is able to lift his head out of the swampy soupy miasma of criminal undergrowth and look at the sunrise. I think we all can identify with Dave, whether or not we share his alcoholism or penchant for violence. And so I call Jim Burke, Dave's emissary and apologist, a holy warrior for good writing, preserving the integrity of American literature amidst the general degradation of language, as well as hoisting the standard for the neglected human values that Dave defends at no little cost to his own safety. The past, in the form of crimes against blacks, women, and the disenfranchised, is constantly casting its shadows across the bayou in this series of books. It is these shadows that form the real opposition, and menace and theaten to drag down the good man. Thus memory does make martyrs of us all.

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