Pulp poems, book reviews, and other tidbits from the noirboiled world
Friday, February 19, 2010
Book Review: Charles Willeford, The Shark-Infested Custard (c. 1975)
Charles Willeford felt that The Shark-Infested Custard was his masterpiece. The novel centers around four men who become friends because they all live in a Miami apartment building that caters to singles. Beyond this, the main things they have in common are a creepy crassness and an interest in the finer points of getting laid. Willeford described The Shark-Infested Custard as "a fairly nasty picture of so-called ordinary young men who are making it down here." Thus, the challenge facing Willeford as a writer was to give his readers sufficient reason to want to spend 263 pages' worth of time with such an unpleasant group of protagonists. For a noirish novel, the obvious strategy would have been to hook readers with a strong narrative drive, but Willeford's episodic storytelling pointedly refuses to do this. (Perhaps it was this vaguely arty storytelling decision, in combination with the vaguely arty decision to use multiple first-person narrators, that deluded Willeford into his high opinion of this book.) Failing this, the author might try to give the book some sort of substance as sociological document, exploring the nature of a society that produces "ordinary young men" like these. But the novel does not seem especially interested in this, either. In the end, the problem with The Shark-Infested Custard is that it does not seem interested in much of anything other than itself. Grade: C
A: Excellent. I intend to read it again. B: Good. I might read it again. C: So-so. I didn't mind reading it. D: Bad. I resented reading it. F: Atrocious. I finished it only because I'm compulsive that way.