Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tribute: Goodbye Robert B. Parker, Thank You Spenser

Not many times in a life do you come across an author that not only moves you deeply, contains talent and skill, and by sheer prolific output becomes somehow part of the movement of your life.

I first came across Robert B. Parker when I was 22 and bringing my then baby, Dakota, to my 7:30am-6:30pm job as a nanny, where I watched a girl baby. During the kids naps, I would browse through the bookshelves and snatch a book quickly, before the kids could wake and steal the short time I had to read. I was lucky enough to one day choose a bland looking little novel, a crime story, about a Browning and Shakespeare quoting private eye, named Spenser. ( Spenser with an S, as he always pointed out ) I read quickly, easily, this wasn't hard reading and it wasn't a shock of instantaneous brilliance. Spenser would find that phrase funny in relation to himself, I know it- ' instantaneous brilliance '- it's actually the exact kind of ' smart guy ' ( as his enemies called him: ie: you some kind of smart guy or what? ) remark he would have made in describing one of his cases to a detractor.

And then- that magic. I fell in love with Spenser. Madly, deeply, in love.

Abel Westing said to me, " You got some smart mouth, fella. You damn near blew the job.
" I know, " I said. " My pulse is still pounding. "

Dry as the finest champagne. Spenser always undermines his foes with this droll and still faced humor, a device which generates much of it's delight from the fact that we- the readers- are in on it, we know what Spenser means and thinks and if he's in a good or bad mood or he and Susan are arguing- while the bad guy or dupe on the receiving end of the remark just has a suspicion that this guy is yanking his chain, mocking him in some way. If the bad guy realizes he or she is being mocked, Spenser just gets dryer and dryer until the only thing more dry would be the bad guy's cold dead body on the ground, which is what does happen, sometimes, in his world.

Spenser was good looking, but not amazingly so. He wore jeans and a jacket and tennis shoes and of course, had demons. At the beginning of the series ( the first Spenser novel is The Godwulf Manuscript ) he meets Susan, a beautiful, intelligent Jewish woman working as a school psychologist, and they slowly and beautifully begin one of the most compelling, tremendously alive and heartwarming relationships I have ever had the privilege to discover in fiction. It is the Spenser/Susan relationship that is at the core of the magic.

And then there is Hawk. Hawk is almost 7 feet, very black, very silent, very dangerous, very wry and on to people, and Spenser's eventual best friend and partner. The 3- Spenser, Susan and Hawk- form a fascinating triangle of relationship that you wish would never, ever end. Only of course they are not real. Whereas Robert B. Parker was very real. Real enough to die this month, at age 77 in the home shared with his wife in Massachusets, of an apparent heartattack. Here is the dedication in his novel The Widening Gyre:

For Joan, David, and Daniel. The center can hold, and does.

That dedication alone is enough to begin to love the man. The classic and adored photo of Parker ( by my husband and I, at least ) on the back seals it.

When I realized that there were an entire series of Spenser books, I was ecstatic. When I realized that Robert B. Parker wrote a book or 2 a year, I was thrilled! And when I married a man who also fell in love with Spenser, Susan and Hawk, I finally had someone to share my adoration with. Mr. Curry fell hard in literary love. We have every Spenser novel Parker wrote, as well as many of his other novels, Jessie Stone novels, random Westerns.

And you think that he did, " I said. ( I is Spenser speaking )
" I have my reasons. "
" What are they? "
She shook her head.
" Oh, " I said, " those reasons. "
" There's no call for sarcasm, " she said.
" The hell there isn't, " I said.
" I think that's probably enough, Mr. Spenser, " Maitland said.
" It's not enough, " I said, " But it's all that I can stand. "
- Hush Money


Spenser is a kind of thinking man's Tony Soprano. He kills people, as few as possible, but he does kill people. He loves Susan devotedly without cheating, but he does need his own apartment, his own space, no marriage. He is a loyal till death friend, but he has few real friends. He is a champion of what he believes to be justice, but it can be shady, debatable. He is large and gruff and women swoon around him, he loves a good pair of tits but he is interested in strong, intelligent women who do what is right. He is constantly concerned with what the right thing to do is, but will do the necessary thing. His relationship with Hawk, a more fiercely violent and terrifying type, allows for the release and exploration of man's reaction toward violence, and black and white relationships.

Hawk nodded. " Tha's a good start, " he said. " Then what we going to do, bawse? "
" Get you diction lessons, " I said. " I always know when you are really jerking my chain, because you start sounding like Mantan Moreland. "
" Mantan Morland? "
" I'm kind of proud of coming up with that one myself, " I said. " Where did the Lamont kid do the deed? "

" Had a condo in the South End, " Hawk said. " Did it there. "
" Okay, that's Boston Homicide. Which means Quirk and Belson. "
" So we talk with them first, " Hawk said.
" I'll talk with them first, " I said. " They'd arrest you. "
" Bigots. "
- Hush Money

Susan and Spenser are both intelligent, compassionate thinkers with incredible work ethic, devotion and interest in life, from cooking ( there is a LOT of food in Spenser novels- they are always eating steak and frites with some delicious red wine or drinking steaming coffee with fresh donuts, all of which Spenser sweetly delights in ) to the arts. Spenser just happens to chase and occasionaly kill thugs for a living, while Susan is a psychologist. The two meet, and their relationship, it's ups and downs, the parting at one point and eventual reconciliation, is so hard worn, so ragged at the edges and brimming with love that they feel as real as your own family. They are our own family-

I have read Spenser every year since age 22, and I'm 35 now. I can't imagine never walking into Borders again and seeing a new ROBERT B PARKER on the newly released shelf. I can't imagine never reading another classic Spenser-ism, or another tender but incredibly unshmaltzy love scene with him and Susan, or heartrending hard luck case Spenser involves himself with, the moral dilemas he faces in his line of work, the puns, the shoot out's with Hawk, the redemption of wrongs, the hysterical characters he meets, the incredible way that Parker had of rendering a landscape or town or person so vividly with just a few sparse paragraphs.

I am not just mourning Robert B Parker, or thinking of his wife and children. I mourn Spenser. Thank you Robert B Parker, from the bottom of my literary heart. I love your books, I love your wonderful and tender heart and mind, and my husband and I will miss you and your world, very, very much.

" It makes you better than other men, " Paul said. " If you hadn't been what you are, where would I be? But it also traps you. Machismo's captive. Honor, commitment, absolute fidelity, the whole myth. "
" Love, " I said. " Love's in there. "

Love is definitely there, Parker.
Ms. Moon said...

Really? I have never read one of his novels. But now I will.

Elizabeth said...

What a wonderful essay this is, and while I confess to never getting into the mystery/crime genre, your writing makes me very curious to read Robert Parker.

Existential Waitress said...

This is such a lovely tribute. I know how it is to fall so deeply in love with a series of books or a fictional world and its characters. You have me intrigued about these Spenser books - they sound like they'd be right up my alley. I'll have to check them out.

Still Life With Coffee said...

I also have never read any of his work... so thank you so much for this heartfelt recommendation. What a loss that he is gone.

unmitigated me said...

Oh, Maggie, I had not heard of this until seeing your tribute. This makes me so sad. I have loved Parker and his works for twenty years. I have all the Spensers, and the Jesse Stones, my daughter has all the Sunny Randalls. I'm so glad Appaloosa made a terrific movie, and selfishly, I'm glad that there are still some Parker novels in the pipeline.

This is a beautiful tribute. I'm not even going to try to equal it. I am going to point my readers right back here.

Annie said...

This is so beautifully written, and heartfelt, and real, it's a shame Robert B. Parker never got to read this- but, then, those writers we admire and write about, almost never get to read what we write about them. I hope they know how much they are appreciated.

Your post is also a wonderful tribute to how so-called "genre" fiction should never be dismissed as not being "meaningful" enough. This author and his work became an important part of your life, because of the quality of his writing, and his ability to capture honesty in relationships.

justmakingourway said...

A beautiful tribute. It's so wonderful when books have that effect, isn't it? You just never want to stop reading them.

I have not read any of these books, which delights me as I am always on the look out for new stories to love!

Bee said...

I've only known about this character from the TV show (which I didn't really watch). But this tribute is so WONDERFUL that I feel like I must read the books now.

p.s. I'm going to send this link to another friend of blog-friend of mine. He also wrote about Parker this week, and I know that this post would bring him joy.

David Cranmer said...

Fantastic tribute. I have one on my blog as well, but you touched on aspects of Parker that even a long time fan like myself, took for granted. Like his dedications which were always heartfelt and primarily dedicated to Joan.

I'm still feeling this lost. I've been a fan of Spenser, Susan, and Hawk for twenty-six years and I don't want to say goodbye.

RIP Mr. Parker.

Kass said...

It's interesting to see how much this author has informed your life and your style of writing.

krista said...

i have never read him. ever. and i love myself some mystery.
i'm excited.

Petit fleur said...

My hub is a criminal investigating haiku writing, frisbee throwing intellectual type. Sounds like he will LOVE this man's writing! I will too btw!

Thank you so much for your sweet heart Maggie and for always turning us onto beauty.

Petit fleur said...

ps David Lynch had a character in his Twin Peaks series named Hawk. The Hawk character's personality sounds similar to the RBP Hawk, only he was Native American character... I wonder if David Lynch was a fan too... bet he was! Interesting.

Lola Sharp said...


Lovely tribute.

So many of us loved his fast paced style of writing.

There are a few more books of his in the pipeline. We will appreciate them even more.

Lola (@sharp pen)

Shaista said...

Ok I'm sold for sure :) I hope the English libraries stock him.
Have you read Janet Evanovich's series? One for the Money etc? Not comparable to Parker, but very very funny, promise it will make you laugh :)

Jeannette StG said...

Thank you for sharing -I think hubby will have a new shelf full of these!:)

Bex said...

I'm always looking for a good series, the kind you can dive in and disappear into, where the characters feel like friends and you're sad when it ends. The truly great ones are rare. I'll be looking up Mr. Parker's work. Thanks for the recommendation.

Rachael said...

And to think, I've been missing out all this time! Adding this to my library list now.

I felt a similar sadness when Michael Crichton died. I've been reading his books since college and feel a terrible void not to be waiting for the next release.

Evangeline said...

I will have to add Robert B. Parker to my reading list! Thanks.

Tiffany Kadani said...

Thank you for the suggestion. I'm always on the lookout for a good read, or many.

Phoenix said...

Such a moving, lovely tribute - I will definitely check out these books!!

Cinda said...

Oh, I so, so agree with you! Parker and Spenser both had a "way" with words and the world.

Unknown said...

"My God," said the little guy with the big glasses, "he sounds like one of nature's noblemen." (Hush Money - tenure hearing scene.) He wasn't talking about Spenser, but he could have been.

I just found out Parker died today. I was checking to see if a new Spenser book was out........I cried.

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