Can you hear me now?

0

“The Listener”

A Review of Robert McCammon’s novel

***Some Spoilers***

I just finished reading Robert McCammon’s The Listener. Though I enjoyed it, I wish there had been more to the plot and more shading given to his characters.
McCammon's The Listener

Robert McCammon’s novel “The Listener”

This was unexpected. I have read sixteen McCammon novels. Whether involving the supernatural, an alien invasion or the exotic criminal world navigated by 18th Century New York detective Matthew Corbett, McCammon’s novels offer detailed settings and lots of characters in a good story.

The Listener takes us to the Deep South of the 1930’s.

A charming grifter, John Pearly, a bible salesman with the face of a choirboy and the soul of a snake intends to fleece a widow and her children.But the steely-eyed widow knows a liar when she sees one and sends him on his way.

In a rage, John kills a litter of puppies belonging to the widow’s children. No redemption there. And time to move on. Destiny calls when John stumbles in to a “sex education” course in another county.

A voluptuous woman named Ginger is doing illustrations on a blackboard, information much appreciated by a crowd of horny farmers who give her their rapt attention. Ginger’s waiting for the seriously intoxicated “doctor” to show up and continue the “lesson” when she spots John, a kindred soul of the grifter persuasion.

When it comes to evil, meanness and all related concepts, Ginger was at the front of the line when the Devil passed them out.

So of course, John is somewhat smitten, though he knows that she is like a black widow spider, and wouldn’t hesitate to enjoy him as a tasty meal after sampling his smarmy charms. In all his evil deeds, John has never murdered anyone other than puppies. With breathtaking efficiency, Ginger completes John’s bad guy training. The doctor’s last appointment is with the business end of a gun. John is officially a murderer. What could go wrong?

Soon after the doctor’s demise, Ginger ditches John. Outraged, he tracks her to New Orleans and a new identity. Ginger is impressed enough to clue John in on a get-really-rich-quick project.

There’s a wealthy businessman with two children. What if someone kidnapped those rich brats?  Their rich father would pay a lot to get them back. If John helps her, he can go to Mexico and live like a king.

Okay then. We’re introduced to Curtis, a sweet natured nineteen-year-old black kid who works as a red cap for the Union Railroad, helping passengers with their bags.
Curtis is a “Listener,”

a term he learned when he was a small child. His mother took her strange little boy to a local shaman (or is it shay-woman—the shaman was a she). Regardless Curtis kept talking to people in his head and his mother feared he was hallucinating. We learn that Curtis is telepathic. Throughout his life, Curtis has linked minds with other telepaths. Occasionally, when encountering someone less than hinged, he would leave his telepath receiver off the hook.

When he links minds with Nilla, an eleven-year old girl, he knows he has a friend.

His mother, a widow in her thirties, has become a childlike hypochondriac who demands too much of his attention. When a girl breaks Curtis’s heart, it is Nilla who comforts him.

And it is Nilla and her little brother Jack who are the rich man’s children, soon to be kidnapped by Ginger and John Pearly.

I’ll leave the spoilers there.

If this were any other writer, I would end by saying that The Listener was a pleasant read,

a perfect way to spend the weekend on the couch. But it’s Robert McCammon and there’s something missing for me. There’s very little depth to any of it.

Curtis lets nothing deter him in his efforts to rescue Nilla. In the process, he endures a savage beating, a byproduct of the racism of the 1930’s South. And he still keeps going. Curtis is angelic, self-sacrificing and a perfect hero. He does finally set his mother straight, telling her she’s not sick and that she should get a life. Other than that,

Curtis’ unrelenting goodness puts me off.

John Pearly resembles a character from McCammon’s alien war story, The Border. Pearly’s character reminded me of the preacher who becomes a sex slave to an alien whose cartoon sexuality reminds me of Ginger’s hyper-nasty but seductive black widow venom. And like The Border characters, they engage in ritualistic twisted sex.

Although Pearly is given an abusive childhood that explains his character, I never did get a sense of what drove Ginger’s hate.

If you’re looking for something good to put on your kindle, a straightforward story of good and evil, consider The Listener, a pleasant way to spend  an afternoon.

McCammon’s Swan Song — Apocalypse Then

0

McCammon’s Swan Song: A review

***Spoilers***

Swan SongColliding worlds, epidemics, vampires, aliens, zombies–writers just love ending the world and we just love reading about how it all goes down.

Everyone dies, except us–or those characters who are our surrogates. One particularly gruesome ending has fallen out of favor–World War III with its mushroom clouds and the President in the War Room agonizing on whether or not to take the Ruskies with us into that bad night of a nuclear winter. He always does.

Because the world is different now from the world of the mid-eighties when McCammon wrote Swan’s Song, what limited appeal this novel possessed has all but evaporated. I’m a boomer and all boomers relate to the fear of global nuclear war; we grew up with it. McCammon renders the nuclear nightmare in vivid detail, focusing on characters struggling to free themselves from environments that saved their lives but now threaten to become tombs.

One particular bit of irony is a survivalist enclave dug into a mountain.

There’s a gym, a movie theater, apartments, etc. and as always happens–the best laid plans fall flat. A whole mountain collapsing on you–take that survivalists. No control of your fate–all luck of the draw. Unlike Stephen King’s The Stand, another end-of-the world scenario, we’re not invested in McCammon’s characters. I think that’s because he devotes so much of the novel to showing us how devastating an all out nuclear war would be, not just to humans, but to everything.

It’s hard to say who the protagonist is– I guess it would be Swan–a young girl who can talk to plants.

It is Swan who will save the world by giving pep talks to trees, grass, crops etc, spreading seeds and re-growing where ever she goes–a kind of “Swannie Appleseed.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The antagonist, similar to The Stand’s Randall Flagg is a devil with a small “d.”

The devil keeps whining about how it’s now “his” party and he gets to decide what happens, which is everybody and everything dies.

I kept wondering–if he gets his way, what will he do for entertainment when everyone is gone. Of course he doesn’t win–Swan has his number and puts him in his place. This novel was long–way too long–over 800 pages. McCammon could have carved out at least two hundred pages of that fruit and nut ingredient necessary to every apocalypse mix–the military mad men, the crazies and the religious zealots. The battle scenes were detailed and endless.

In terms of characters–there’s lots of pat psychoanalysis but not much in the way of real people to care about. Like King’s The Stand, McCammon’s Swan Song indicates he doesn’t care a lot for the military or much in the way of government.

I know McCammon can write–I read Boy’s Life years ago and it was such a pleasure. I intend to read some of his other novels and expect I’ll enjoy them. One thing–I’m glad that threat of a nuclear winter is diminishing. On top of everything, there would be nothing to eat–unless of course you’re a zombie.

Since I first posted this review, I have read several books by Robert McCammon. What an amazing body of work! I particularly liked the premise of The Border, the way he used setting and culture in Stinger and I loved his Matthew Corbett mysteries, set in the New York of the 18th Century. Fascinating! I look forward to the next installment.

McCammon’s “Swan Song” — Apocalypse Then

3

Colliding worlds, epidemics, vampires, aliens, zombies–writers just love ending the world and we just love reading about how it all goes down.

Everyone dies, except us–or those characters who are our surrogates. One particularly gruesome ending has fallen out of favor–World War III with its mushroom clouds and the President in the War Room agonizing on whether or not to take Imagethe Ruskies with us into that bad night of a nuclear winter. He always does.

Because the world is different now from the world of the mid-eighties when McCammon wrote Swan’s Song, what limited appeal this novel possessed has all but evaporated.

I’m a boomer and all boomers relate to the fear of global nuclear war; we grew up with it.  McCammon renders the nuclear nightmare in vivid detail, focusing on characters struggling to free themselves from environments that saved their lives but now threaten to become tombs. One particular bit of irony is a survivalist enclave dug into a mountain. There’s a gym, a movie theater, apartments, etc. and as always happens–the best laid plans go down. A whole mountain collapsing on you–take that survivalists. No control of your fate–all luck of the draw. Unlike Stephen King‘s The Stand, another end-of-the world scenario, we’re not invested in McCammon’s characters. I think that’s because he devotes so much of the novel to showing us how devastating an all out nuclear war would be, not just to humans, but to everything.

It’s hard to say who the protagonist is.

I guess it would be Swan–a young girl who can talk to plants and it is Swan who will save the world by giving pep talks to trees, grass, crops etc, spreading seeds and re-growing where ever she goes–a kind of “Swannie Appleseed.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The antagonist, similar to The Stand‘s Randall Flagg is a devil with a small “d.” The devil keeps whining about how it’s now “his” party and he gets to decide what happens, which is everybody and everything dies. I kept wondering–if he gets his way, what will he do for entertainment when everyone is gone? Of course he doesn’t win–Swan has his number and puts him in his place.

This novel was long–way too long–over 800 pages. McCammon could have carved out at least two hundred pages of that fruit-and-nut ingredient necessary to every apocalypse mix–the military mad men, the crazies and the religious zealots.

The battle scenes were detailed and endless. In terms of characters–there’s lots of pat psychoanalysis but not much in the way of real people to care about. Like King’s The Stand, McCammon’s Swan Song indicates he doesn’t care a lot for the military or much in the way of government.

I know McCammon can write–I read Boy’s Life years ago and it was such a pleasure. I intend to read some of his other novels and expect I’ll enjoy them. One thing–I’m glad that threat of a nuclear winter is diminishing. On top of everything, there would be nothing to eat–unless of course you’re a zombie.