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Posted: September 29, 2019

The Mexican Tree Duck is a remarkable book

Book Review

By Derryll White

Crumley, James (1993).  The Mexican Tree Duck.

“Pin my Purple fucking Heart to my ass, boys, and send me home!”

I have to go down to Victoria to find James Crumley. Nobody in the Interior has him, although I hope Lotus Books is going to change that. For anyone who appreciates noir fiction, Crumley is as good as it gets. He has a mix of black humour, rock’n’roll amphetamine-style energy and a sexually casual mind.  I don’t think he hits a wrong note.  In this novel Crumley brings back C.W. Sughrue, the laconic private detective that made his novel ‘The Last Good Kiss’ such a remarkable book to read.

Crumley has a truly amazing ability to let his language flow eloquently into the dark absurdities of everyday American life.  His text is a constant and fluid ballet of out-of-the-ordinary images and common language.  The reader has top price balcony tickets to the ‘fringe’ presentation of the best of America’s freedom and the darkest of its excesses.

‘The Mexican Tree Duck’ displays all the elements of the very best  of noir fiction. Crumley lays bare the human soul for the reader – love, sorrow, gain, loss.  We see how truly rotten the politics of power and greed are, how the war in Vietnam was manipulated for personal gain.  But throughout the blackness there is the shining light of love, trust, fealty and commitment. I think Crumley has written the best novel of the genre with ‘The Mexican Tree Duck.’

            “It’s not about hugging trees.  It’s not about being wasteful either.  You just have to find that balance.”

— Matthew Maconaghue


Excerpts from the novel:

The DAHLGRENS – The two men lumbered toward me, their steps raising tiny waves in the tanks, dressed in matching polyester sports tents.  They were a pair of giant twins, at least six-six willowy, too, as if their massive flesh rode on green sticks instead of bones.

AMERICA – “Lovely,” I whispered as I wandered into the arms of that past when America still believed in itself, when my father went to war, the war my mother blamed for his madness.  I hope her memory forgives me, but I always blamed her.  As far as I knew from my father’s war stories, nothing had happened in the South Pacific that would convince a fifth-generation Scotch-Irish Texan that he had been suddenly transformed into a member of a lost band of Kwahadi Comanche.  My guess was that he was loony before he left my mother’s house the first time, and that his later vision quests into the Far West were just excuses to keep moving.  Mysticism as motion, a life I understood I thought as I stopped beside a canvas-shrouded .50-caliber mounted on a tripod.

“You boys have any ammo for this baby?”

THE SEASONS – Young men find spring the time of renewal, but those of us with a few beers under our belts and even more miles on our butts find spring to be simply a false promise of greenery destined to wither, a flowered, frenzied promise never meant to be kept.

In the clear, hot sunshine of autumn, the promise of winter waits just inside the shade of the pines, a vow always honored.  Whatever winter brings – aching bones, starving elk, frozen children – we’ve got this moment of blue clarity.  Western Montana at its best.

MONTANA – In Montana, too, you’re even free after death.  Sort of.  If you don’t want it, the professional vultures can’t embalm your husk or saddle your kith and kin with fancy satin-bedded coffins.  Your people can just wrap you in a wagon sheet and drop you in a hand-hewn hole in the backyard.  Then retire to the nearest bar to remember you in stories and remember you until the stories become the children you never bothered to have.

RELATIVITY – Perhaps only people who followed the letter of the law, instead of the spirit, would think of us as bad guys.  Recently, it came to me that the letter of the law was a dolar sign, and the spirit a ghost of her former self.

TOURISTS – How did I know it was a tourist?  A reasonable person wouldn’t have shouted at me after just hearing three rounds thunk like a double-bit axe into the tree.  But tourists are brave, not reasonable.  In fact they are the bravest people in the world.  They leap into giant vehicles and haul oversized trailers into places that most intelligent people wouldn’t take a D-9 Cat and at speeds most people wouldn’t attempt in a sports car.  They try to sit their children on black bears with bags of marshmallows, they try to photograph the nasal passages of buffalo and moose, and they blunder their way up trails closed by grizzly bear signs, flouting their chocolate bars and menstrual pads.  So they are so brave they scare the shit out of me.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

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