Wrapped Up In Books is The A.V. Club's monthly book club. We'll be talking it over amongst ourselves for a few days leading up to a live chat, which you can join, this Thursday at 5 pm ET/4pm CT.
Like Tasha, I’m glad Keith explained the publisher-dictated title; without knowing that, and going from a brief plot summary I’d seen online, I spent the whole book expecting something much darker to happen than what we eventually got. Which isn’t to say that The Woman Chaser isn’t dark—but I’m talking, massive murder spree dark. When Hudson burns down the studio to get his revenge on the people who won’t give him exactly what he wants, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. But of course, that really is the other shoe. Hudson’s a monster, but he’s not a cartoon; and Chaser isn’t so much about him having a psychotic break as it is about him reaching the inevitable end of a sociopath who can only play friendly for so long.
This was a pleasure to read. I’ve enjoyed everything we’ve done for the Book Club so far, but Chaser was that kind of great, read-it-in-hour crime fiction that I always forget exists, and am happy to re-discover. Some commenters have complained that Hudson wasn’t likable, and, well, yeah; he’s a misogynistic arrogant creep. But he’s got a definite perspective on things, and that’s enough to make him interesting. He’s good at what he does, too, and that makes him compelling. His description of how to run a successful used car business is more fun than you’d think.
But being a terrific used car salesman doesn’t make you a great film director. There’s some question as to just how good The Man That Got Away really is, and we’re never given any way to judge its merits, beyond Hudson’s own clear belief in himself and the positive feedback he gets from his father-in-law and the other industry folks. Since the actual movie itself doesn’t matter—nobody’s every going to see it—its quality is only important in how it relates to the rest of the story. Does it fit the book better if Hudson is a hack with delusions of grandeur? Or if he’s a genius who’s brought down by his refusal to compromise?
I honestly don’t know. While I was reading the book, I just assumed it was a good movie; Hudson’s talent and edge as a salesman, and the way that he generally seems smarter than everybody else around him, makes it easier to fall for his line. Looking back, well… the guy’s opinion of humanity is pretty low, but even worse, it’s not really all that insightful. Gasp, bad marriages are unpleasant! Shock—most people work jobs they really aren’t fond of! The story for Man could work, but it could also very easily be the sort of thing that only seems like a good idea at 3 a.m. in the morning. The 63 minute running time could seem endless if the whole thing was just grim shots of the highway. (If other people were thinking of Vanishing Point, I couldn’t help remembering the majesty of the Coleman Francis oeuvre.)
Unreliable first person narratives can be a blast to read, but they’re tricky to parse out when it comes to trying to find the truth of the situation. I think the only real fault I can find in this book is that Willeford sometimes plays it a little too close to the vest; Hudson dominates the story, and there’s nobody else I can think of who really seems to have life outside of his perception of them. He flirts with his step-sister then tosses her away as the moment serves him; but that step-sister also conforms to a male fantasy of the teenage Lolita, coy, flirtatious, and sexy while still being naïve enough for Hudson to stay in control. We don’t really know much about Laura, the step-dad is either a chum or a chump depending on Hudson’s mood The closest we have to real people are Bill, the guy Hudson hires to take over the lot, Hudson’s mother, and THE MAN—but all them are of interest only in how they help or hinder Hudson’s work.
It’s a fine line. Obviously this is Hudson’s story, and since he’s the one telling it, we’re not going to get an objective perspective. I just think the novel falls a little short of making a point because Willeford does such a terrific job of sticking us in Hudson’s head and leaving us there that there really isn’t anything else to compare it to.
But hey, this is funny, nasty little pulp novel, it doesn’t really have to have a point, beyond getting you from beginning to end. There’s not a dull moment in the whole thing, and there’s a great feeling throughout that something’s horrible coming, you just can’t tell what. I appreciated that the plot never settled into obvious patterns, and I really liked how Hudson’s movie idea was clearly connected to his own view of life, but wasn't directly taken from the life he was living. It would’ve been easy to make the connection between who he was and what he wanted to create more literal, and the way Willeford actually comes up with a movie that could’ve worked on its own terms is very cool.
Oh, and that mother fixation—I think that was basically Hudson’s perfect woman. Like having a piece of art that you could show off, and didn’t require maintenance. I think Hudson wasconcerned with the idea of things, and not the things themselves, and him preening over his mother’s talents is just the most obvious example of that.