Robin Robertson’s The Long Take is sui generis as a literary work. Mr. Roberson is a Scottish poet living in London. He is also a literary editor, editing such great writers as J. M. Coetzee and John Banville. This book is a hybrid genre sometimes described as a novel-in-verse. Picador, the publisher, tells us that the work is “a noir narrative written with the intensity and power of poetry.” The publisher classifies it as “Picador Poetry.”
The narrative relates the story of Walker, a Canadian soldier from a fishing town in Nova Scotia, who experienced the trauma of D-Day and its aftermath. After witnessing and participating in the horrors and atrocities of war, Walker chooses to recalibrate his life in three American cities—New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He works as a docker in New York, and when he moves across the continent to Los Angeles he is hired as a newspaper reporter. He then travels northward to San Francisco to report on the homelessness situation plaguing the City on the Bay after the war, before returning to Los Angeles.
Robertson brilliantly weaves in flashbacks of his halcyon life in Nova Scotia and his horrific life during the war in italicized paragraphs throughout the book. We learn that he had a girl back home that he loved, but the war has transformed him for the worse, and that he dare not return to her. We discover that he witnessed the execution of his soldier comrades after they were taken as prisoners by the Germans.
Walker’s state of mind is described in powerful language: “ He wanted delirium and he wanted it now, taking a standing drink in any bar he could, moving through downtown, block by block, through new blares of neon, streetlights, headlamps, store-window displays, all blurred in long exposure: the lights leaving wavering tracers of red, green, white gold—like Jackson Pollock those light trails, through streams of people, swaying retinal flares.”
The book’s narrative and plot development are suffused with this poetic imagery. The “long exposure” of Walker’s life is blended into “the long take” of a Hollywood film, where fantasy and reality are hard to distinguish.
Walker witnesses the destruction of both the social and physical fabric of the “real” Los Angeles, as neighborhoods and people are displaced by expressways and parking lots. He cannot maintain his reporter’s objectivity and be numb to the suffering around him. “Real” life in Los Angeles has become “an infestation, a carcinoma.” The fantasy of Hollywood film blurs out the suffering of the dislocated and the homeless in Walker’s Los Angeles.
The Long Take is not an easy read, but well worth the effort. If you can succeed in “getting into” the narrator’s voice you will recognize that this book is a literary tour de force. The accompanying urban noir photos in the book are amazing. The Long Take was shortlisted in the 2018 Booker Prize competition. I highly recommend it to my blog readers.
One of the least known aspects of Ben Hecht’s amazing career, was his stint as a host of a late-night television interview show which was only aired locally on the ABC network in New York City in 1958-59. It was produced by Mike Wallace, who already had a successful interview show running on ABC at that time. Hecht’s show was brilliant and controversial. He launched it with an interview with advertising executive Robert Foreman where Hecht described the television commercial as “the real poetry of our times.” Some of the other highlights of the show’s brief twenty-two episodes run included Hecht discussing humor with S.J. Perelman, movies with Mike Todd Jr., acting with Stella Adler, politics with Drew Pearson, and the Beat Generation with Jack Kerouac. I surfed the internet, and the only episode that I could find was the audio of the two-part Kerouac interview. Give yourself a treat and listen to it.