Friday, September 26, 2014

The Myth of the Benign Fascist

Everyone seems to love them. You know, those bad-ass pulp fiction characters who let their male emotions do their thinking and their giant muscles do the talking. I've taken to calling them 'the benign Fascists'.

Of course, there really is no such thing. But that's part of the allure right? Reading fantasies that there might actually be such. We call them things like Batman, or The Equalizer, or Jack Reacher. It's a nice thought, I suppose. I mean, them taking out the human garbage and all.

But it just ain't so. It finally became such a reach for me to believe in that kind of fantasy that I put down the novels that are basically a gun-humper's wet dream. I got sick of those violent concoctions about men who are somewhere between the outlaw and the good guy.

My latest excursion into such territory was THE WEIGHT by Andrew Vachss. When I was younger I was a huge Vachss fan. I read several of his Burke novels, the title character kind of like Doc Savage if all Doc Savage did was go around slaughtering child molesters. Those were fun for a while, but then they got old and I stopped reading them well before I finished the whole series.

When I saw THE WEIGHT I figured I'd see what Vachss was up to in more recent times. This book came out around 2011 or so. At least the version I have is dated 2011. And he mentions such topical things as what a douche Eliot Spitzer is. Yeah, it's that kind of novel.

The book focuses on a professional criminal named "Sugar". He's a thief who is usually part of a team who go after high-dollar targets and then lay low for a long time. Sugar is not naturally violent (despite being well over six feet tall and composed of 240 pounds or so of solid muscle) and he cares a lot about the welfare of children and women and the mentally disadvantaged. And probably puppies, but we never get to hear about that.

The plot kicks into high gear after a big heist when Sugar is falsely accused of raping a woman and he can't voice his alibi because that would be admitting that he was in on the theft of five million dollars worth of jewelery. So he ends up having to take the blame for the rape so that he won't have to give up his fellow thieves. This is "the weight" of the title. He has to serve five years in the pen.

And there he has to do business with all sorts, including the Aryan Brotherhood, because Sugar is a white dude and he has to buy his shank from the AB. And the way the Brotherhood is described is that some of them aren't really bad sorts. They're just misunderstood fellows who happen to be covered in Hitler and Nazi tattoos. You dig that, right?

Most of the first half of the book deals with Sugar talking about the life of a career criminal. It's pretty good stuff and holds your interest. Because whatever Vachss may be feeding us about his benign Fascist, he's a very skillful writer. When the serious plot does finally kick in, it's convoluted and detailed and so crazy that mostly it makes no sense whatsoever. And that's generally okay in crime books, because many of the classic crime novels involve criminal plots that make absolutely no sense at all. But here it doesn't work. For utterly failed.

But the book held my attention. I have to give it that. I think in the final analysis I just can't believe in the theory of the benign Fascist. Because those guys whose careers are built around breaking the law and stealing and such...they're almost all stupid assholes. And they have little to no morals when it comes to the welfare and safety of children, and women, and the mentally disadvantaged. To them, kids and women...those are targets.

THE WEIGHT by Andrew Vachss.


dogboy443 said...

I was a huge Vacchs fan, starting with Flood, Strega, Blue Belle etc, but as time went on, I lost interest in the writing and the later characters. Burke would still make an interesting movie vehicle, but it would have to be done right and at an R rating. To see Max the Silent, the Prof and Mama on screen...and of course Pansie.

James Robert Smith said...

The Burke novels were interesting to me initially. But I tired of them pretty fast. Vacchs is a very good writer. It was just me--I lost interest and stopped reading the books.