Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book Review: 'Oscar Caliber Gun' by Henry Baum

Los Angeles author Henry Baum has published four novels - The Golden Calf, God’s Wife, North of Sunset, and The American Book of the Dead – as well as publishing work with Identity Theory, Storyglossia, Scarecrow, Dogmatika, Purple Prose, 3:AM, Les Episodes, and others. Henry is also a recorded music composer and singer and for that aspect of his artistic he uses the name Ash Tree. And as he states ‘Ash Tree is a solo music project – I play and record everything myself. The name is derived from my own name – H. sounds like “Ash” in French, and Baum means “Tree” in German.’ The initial version of OSCAR CALIBER GUN was published as The Golden Calf in 1999: OSCAR CALIBER GUN is the second and 25th anniversary edition.

Henry’s style of writing is true grit. He flavors his tale with strange asides and back stories and introduces characters, at times only momentarily, who add to the atmosphere of the California seamy side. Yet while his main character appears to be the very face of male dysfunction, he manages to keep a dollop of dark humor to lighten the pages.

For example, an excerpt from the book reads as follows: ‘Ugly women knew what it was like to live. Pretty women didn't know anything about real life. They'd been looked at too long. Imagine, you're a mannequin, people staring at you your whole life, telling you how good you look and that's all that matters. You can't tell me that they know what it's like to really be alive. The uglier women had to rely on something other than their face. So I felt something for them. And I was no one to complain. I wasn't all that pretty myself. And I hadn't had sex in over a year. I wasn't afraid to admit it.’

The synopsis offers some insight into the range of the story: ‘‘Ray Tompkins is the kind of person you never get to know. He's the security guard, the factory worker, the man working the midnight shift. Nobody really understands Ray - not his coworkers, not his family, and certainly not the women in his life. There is a rage building inside Ray Tompkins and Los Angeles is the fuel - the sick obsession with celebrity mixed with the vacuousness of everyday life. Against this backdrop, Ray Tompkins finds a way to vent his anger. He, too, will be known as the Hollywood celebrity stalker who prowls the underbelly of Los Angeles, his new target is A-List Movie Actor Tim Griffith, and Ray's going to see this one through to the star-studded murderous end.’

Ray tells us his perception of his life: ‘I learned today that I wasn't going to be anything. I was twenty-eight years old. I was reading about the Beatles today on the way to work. I got this encyclopedia that's supposed to have every fact about them. By the time those guys were twenty-eight they had done just about everything. They had changed the world. And they did something good. I watched other celebrities, like movie stars, and they had an air about them like they ruled the world. Now, I wasn't against success. I would have loved some of it. Some real world-changing success. What I didn't like was the no-talents or the almost-talents swallowing up success like a junkie to drugs and then being rewarded for it. They were young and over-proud. I myself was twenty-eight years old. And that didn't mean a thing to anybody but me. I worked in a warehouse. Somebody had to. Behind everything, there was people. They might have been happy people, sad people, rich people, or people who wanted to kill, but nothing worked by itself. When you walked outside and you saw the buildings, the streetlights, the trash on the street, you thought that it was a given, that was just the way things were. But that wasn't the case. The stuff had to be made by somebody. The M & M wrapper lying on the sidewalk had to be designed by some professional, then approved by someone higher, and then sealed up by a machine. People like me ran those machines. People like me somewhere else made those machines, and people somewhere else made the screws for the machines. There was a little life lesson for you. Things didn't make themselves. It was all made by people who had stuff on their minds. I supposed that was the meaning of life right there. There was something behind everything. And behind that there's something else, down to the last atom. And nothing could ever be figured out because you keep going backward. You halve an atom, you just get half an atom. You halve that, you get a quarter, and so on. There was no way of figuring out what's behind it, what's behind anything.’

Happy 25th Anniversary to this very entertaining and significant novel! Grady Harp, June 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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