Thursday, February 23, 2017

James W. Nichol's Transgression Is An Unusually Fine Book

Since I wrote a couple of weeks ago about reading the novel "Midnight Cab" by one of my favorite authors of radio drama, James W. Nichol, I've read the other two novels he's published as of now,  Transgression and Death Spiral.  I'm not sure if any of them are currently in print but they all deserve to be, especially Transgression which is an unusually fine book.

The novel centers on a young girl, Adele George, who, as a 16-year-old seamstress in Rouen, meets a young German Wermacht clerk, Manfred Halder, when she is searching for her father who is missing-in-action.  Her father, a prominent doctor can't be located and the young clerk, who has shot himself so he could avoid combat and who, it turns out, is against the war and Hitler, tries to help her.  Of course, they fall in love and start a love affair.  After they are separated and temporarily reunited, in a complex series of events which Nichol manages to make quite plausible in some very richly described and laid out scenes, they are definitively separated by the Normandy landing and her leaving Rouen after a horrifically described scene of her and other womens' punishment as "horizontal collaborators".   Nichol's ability to recreate a very plausible and very unmasculine mind which seems, to me, to be distinctly French as opposed to German-Polish and English-Canadian is one of the things I found most impressive in the book.  Even within the French characters, he is able to make distinct differences in thinking clear.

After trying to reunite with Manfred as the war is ending according to a simple but informal means of them meeting up again and failing, Adele goes through many more trials before she is convinced he must be dead.   As she's considering ending her life she meets a nice Canadian soldier, they fall in love, marry and she joins him in Canada.

It's a rich and complex novel which, as in his other two novels, combines with a parallel narrative in the time when the climax of the action occurs.   When the two threads of narrative meet up the denouement is something I really didn't see coming.  It is quite convincing.

Of the novels I've read in the past two months, dozens of them as distraction from Trumpian horror, the only ones that match if not, at times exceeding Walter Mosley's for quality are those of Nichol.   I really hope there is more I haven't either come across yet or which are yet to be published.

In looking into Nichol's work, I came across a Youtube-Amazon comments campaign to vilify him among the self-appointed "Stolen Valor" vigilantes.  I mention it only because if you try to buy copies of his books on Amazon, you're bound to see it.  I don't believe it.   The accusation against him is said, in at least one source I've looked at, the product of a "practical joke" a friend played on him which I find far more believable than that a Canadian who has been a public figure since at least the time he started writing plays c. 1970 was trying to pass himself off as a U.S. Navy Seal.   I couldn't find any claims to that effect in any of the other sources of information I've found about him and I am convinced he is a victim of a smear campaign.  I have come to distrust virtually everything that gets said and passed along in comment threads because I've been smeared that way so often, myself.   I can't say that I'd count that as a mortal sin as compared to the Hollywood - TV - pulp novel deification of the would-be warrior class.  That  is certainly not something that is done in either of Nichol's books dealing with war veterans of WWII.   Considering the treatment of military academies and military culture in his first novel,  Midnight Cab, I don't buy the accusation, at all.  I think the asses who piled on at Amazon are the kind of asses that the internet has shown to be all too plentiful.

Update:   Here's a video of James W. Nichol talking about the book.

1 comment:

  1. The internet has made experts of us all. Or at least that's the American version of "democracy." If we're all equal, my opinion is as good as yours. Of course, the opinion of an M.D. is better than that of a quack, but we preach it round and square: all men are created equal (before the law) turns into: you're no better than me! Well, no, but some can be better educated, at which point it turns into: "What makes you think you're so smart?"

    And then, if the answer is not quantifiable (e.g., an engineering problem) then my opinion is definitely what the world has been waiting for!

    Which is why I never bother with comments on the internet. Most of them are people complaining because they didn't get what they wanted, and what they wanted was something to make them happy, and who knows why they are unhappy anyway? It's probably not the fault of whatever they are commenting about. But everyone's opinion must be heard, and so we slowly drown in the great sea of mendacity.

    We are all Tennessee Williams' characters, now.....