Sunday, August 06, 2006

Fearing's Clock

"In short, the big clock was running as usual, and it was time to go home. Sometimes the hands of the clock actually raced, and at other times they hardly moved at all. But that made no difference to the big clock. The hands could move backward, and the time it told would be right just the same. It would still be running as usual, because all other watches have to be set by the big one…"

Kenneth Fearing, born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1902, three years after Ernest Hemingway, drank himself to death just short of his 59th birthday. The Big Clock, which came out in 1946, dazzled critics (and impressed the hard-to-impress Raymond Chandler) and was based on the six months Fearing spent at Time, Inc. – one of the few jobs he could ever hold for long. Its lead character, a womanizing boozer named George Stroud, edits a magazine called Crimeways for a weird publishing tycoon whose blond mistress is murdered after a surreptitious fling with Stroud – a murder Stroud himself is ordered to look into by his boss.

Both tough and strikingly poetic, Fearing's book (which was filmed twice – once with Ray Milland as Stroud and a superb Charles Laughton as the publisher, and most recently as No Way Out with Kevin Costner) is definitely an important look at American values after WW II. All credit to the New York Review of Books and their paperback branch for this handsome reprint.