The Woman Chaser: Donna Bowman's comments
I didn't know it was possible to love a poorly-transferred digital book as much as I love The Woman Chaser. Its raw, unapologetic macho attitude transfixed me from the first words. And as the details of used-car salesmanship and management gave way to the details of independent filmmaking and emotional blackmail, I only became more mesmerized—not just by the story that was being told, but by the strange, inexplicable way it was being told, the utterly cavalier disregard of the reader's concerns or expectations. Everything you think the book is going to be about, it doesn't turn out to be about. Every way you think Richard Hudson is going to get his comeuppance, he doesn't. Sure, he tells you that it's a tragedy and everything is going to go wrong, and from the noirish pulp genre setup, we have every confidence that it's true. But the sheer ballsy hubris of the narrator, who somehow misses the control he had and failed to exercise over what went wrong! His maddening refusal to come down and live among the mortals long enough to keep a solid foundation under his crazy dreams! Something about that infuriating attitude just grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.
Charles Willeford is not an obscure author 'round these parts. Born in Little Rock, he's claimed by Arkansans as part of their literary birthright. But I'd never read him before Keith (bless you, Keith) chose this book as his “Wrapped Up In Books” selection. Now I'm haunted by that style and I can't wait to read more.
But let me suggest to Scott and my fellow WUiBers that The Man Who Got Away might not be all Hudson cracks it up to be. Keith has already hinted as much: Can it be possible that this swaggering, restless, insultingly elitist used car salesman directs a sixty-three minute masterpiece? Can we take at face value his bald-faced appraisal of its extraordinary quality, his reports that everyone around him agreed the movie was dynamite, even to the point of wanting to protect the public from its searing, soul-destroying nihilism? Baby, I doubt it. Just like I doubt that his stepsister was actually cured of looking for sex with bad boys by being treated roughly by big brother. Just like I doubt that the Santa Claus suits were really the secret to moving cars off the lot. Hudson insists to the end that these ideas were proven winners, and if the results weren't what he hoped, it was because other people were weak or lacked vision (or simply failed to follow the All-Powerful Dick's orders to the letter). Can he be right? The facts beyond Richard's blinding sense of self-importance indicate otherwise.
Let's connect Hudson's infallibility complex to his icky mother fixation. The scene in which he dances with his mother on the spur of the moment and (of course) becomes her Greatest Partner Ever, interpreting the music and executing the moves flawlessly despite his lack of training, is surely the blueprint for the entire book. Taken at face value, it's embarrassingly over the top and dreadfully implausible. But as an expression of Richard's belief that creative work is all a matter of throwing yourself into it wholeheartedly and singlemindedly Following One's Muse, it's of a piece with The Man Who Got Away. He worships his mother's perfect body and is certain that her artistry makes her morally unimpeachable (the best mother anyone ever had). In a way, he wants to elevate the Feebs to the position of his creative inspiration. If he can make great art out of their existential plight, then they will be redeemed not just by viewing it and learning from it, but also by serving as the sine qua non of the work itself. He will become a great director because he is dancing with them, so they will deserve credit for the resulting greatness.
The leering style Hudson adopts when talking about women, combined with the inappropriate sexualizing of his mother and stepsister, have an effect that can only be described as the opposite of bracing. It's not the clean, cold shock that comes when artifice is stripped away; it's the moldy, slimy disgust that comes when someone does not at least pay lip service to the appropriate channels of desire. But it has in common with bracing prose the quality of waking you up. I was alert, fascinated, repelled, but page-turningly compelled at those points, like when John Gardner wrote a pornographic novel as the book-within-a-book in October Light.
I can easily understand those of you who didn't enjoy reading this book. I'd really like to know what it says about me that I devoured it with a silly grin plastered on my face, and for me it's the opposite of depressing or solipsistic. The Woman Chaser made me feel ... alive.