Posts tagged ‘The Death of Tarpons’
August 14, 2018
“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” —Sigmund Freud
Les Edgerton in conversation with a Trinity College Dublin graduate Kelly O’Brien:
—The Death of Tarpons takes the form of bildungsroman and is written in the first person narrative. Given that you also grew up in Texas in the 1950s, how much did your own coming-of-age play into the writing of the novel?
Les Edgerton: 100%. This is a fairly accurate account of my own experience that summer. It had to be fictionalized to better create the proper drama. Overall, most of the elements in the story are true to life. There are two elements present in every novel—an emotional element and an intellectual element. I would never pay any attention to the intellectual element-that isn’t the job of a novel. An emotional response is all I’m ever after and hopefully never in a surface or superficial manner, but in a deeper, psychological manner.
—The Death of Tarpons examines the notion of masculinity in the development of both Corey and his father’s sense of self. Would you say that masculinity pushed to its extreme – machismo – is a damaging force within the novel? What is the role of Corey’s grand-father from this point of view?
LE: Looking back in a deconstruction exercise is the only way I can answer this. This wasn’t a conscious effort on my part during the writing of it. It depends on your definition of masculinity. To my mind, the grandfather is the only true masculine figure in the story. The father subscribes to a cartoonish idea of masculinity, but Toast is honestly masculine. In fact, he’s so comfortable in his own maleness that he never tries to posture or play some kind of role formed by bad novels and bad movies. I would disagree that the father exhibits some form of masculinity pushed to its extreme. The father doesn’t represent any form of masculinity, but the grandfather absolutely does. One of the chief tenants of masculinity is the person being completely comfortable in his own skin and never considering how he might appear to others. That is the very definition of Toast and the very definition of masculinity.
—The women of the text are essential figures in Corey’s life yet it is the male relationships that are most often at the forefront of the narrative. Do you think that the women in the novel are integral or disposable? And why?
LE: All three women are important to the story, even if their characters don’t come across as disposable. The sister is a stock and stereotypical figure and certain disposable in the sense that she contributes little to the story, at least on the surface. However, she does, as she’s the one character that admires her father’s skewed notion of masculinity and mostly because he pays her attention and doesn’t judge her so long as she shows that admiration. The sister is the kind of female guys like the father are trying to influence and are the only kinds of females they value. The grandmother is little seen, but important in that she’s comfortable in her role as Toast’s wife. She’s the opposite of her granddaughter—she’s a real woman and doesn’t tolerate her son-in-law at all, but actually dismisses him as a man. The mother is crucial to the story because she has effectively abandoned her family for her religion. She’s the person Corey wishes would be on his side and in a normal family would be, but she’s missing in action. She’s simply a weak, selfish person. Her drug here is religion, but it could just as easily be alcohol, drugs, a shopping jones, adultery or almost anything else.
—I felt, as a reader, that cyclicality is an important theme in the novel. I’m referring particularly to the spatterdashes symbol. Was it intended as a meditation on the ways in which we carry the past within us?
LE: It was a literal symbol. As Toast explains to Corey, spatterdashes are an article of clothing that prevented spatter from being dashed on the man. It doesn’t get any more literal than that. In Corey’s case, they represented an heirloom passed down by the males of his family to look toward as something concrete that if he accepted the definition and the history, would see that they represented something that would prevent the crap his father tried to throw at him from besmirching his soul. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and that’s kind of what these spatterdashes are, to him.
—Forgive my curiosity, but is the spatterdashes story autobiographical and if it is, do you still have them?
LE: The spatterdashes are the fictional part I mentioned earlier. They never existed in my life but they represent everything that Toast meant to Corey.
—The Death of Tarpons almost seems mythological in the manner in which the story culminates. Is it a metaphor – conscious or subconscious – for the mysterious, contradictory and sometimes frightening adult world?
LE: I suspect it may seem mythological in that Corey’s story is fairly common, albeit with varied circumstances. Most good stories are mythological in that they’re ageless and keep recurring over and over. And of course it’s a metaphor. Metaphor is what all stories are about.
—Is it significant that your first novel is a largely autobiographical coming-of-age novel? Was is the first novel you wanted to write or did it just happen to be published before another novel? What’s its significance in your development as a writer?
LE: It’s significant in that most first novels are coming-of-age novels. Probably close to 75% are even if they’re fictionalized as mine was. It’s what we know and what we’re comfortable with. And, often they’re unpublishable simple because of that. As one of my reviewers—Sydney Lea, former editor of The Georgia Review—said, “Leslie Edgerton takes one of the hoariest of projects, the family chronicle…”. I know it’s the kind of novel I saw from nearly all my freshmen students in university classes—autobiography disguised as fiction. There’s a reason it’s considered “hoary”… because it is. And most are dismissed out of hand. It takes a level of writing that most first writers haven’t yet developed. I had, which is why it got published.
It’s significant in that it gave me confidence that not only was my own life valuable material but that I had the writing chops sufficient for publication. Just about all of my fiction is autobiographical. I can’t think of any that isn’t.
“Edgerton’s later novels have become Noir classics to many, and THE DEATH OF TARPONS hints at a childhood that helps explain the author’s successful literary journeys into darkness.” —Jack Getze
March 28, 2017
On the occasion of the new release of Les Edgerton’s debut novel, The Death of Tarpons, in paperback format by Betimes Books and in electronic format by Endeavour Press, we are taking a look back at what makes Edgerton’s first work of fiction so special. For something which, at first glance, seems so different from his later works, how does it fit so seamlessly in Edgerton’s body of work?
First published in 1996 as a hard cover edition, The Death of Tarpons stands out in Edgerton’s repertoire for how different in tone it is from his subsequent novels. To many, Edgerton is known as an acclaimed crime writer, but his most loyal fans will also know that he has never wanted to limit himself – or be limited – to one genre of writing: from short story collections like Gumbo Ya-Ya to young adult fiction such as Mirror, Mirror and plenty of non-fiction, Edgerton has explored writing in its many forms.
Consequently, it should come as no surprise that Edgerton’s first piece of writing is a touching coming-of-age story about a young teenage boy trying to build a better relationship with his father.
“Then, last year, I got this fantastic idea to do something totally on my own, in secret, that would show him once and for all I could do something mechanical. Manly. Then, he would love me and be proud of me and put his arm around me. I decided to build a boat. For him.”
This sounds as far removed as possible from other works like The Rapist or Just Like That but, as one reviewer and fellow author has mentioned, the seeds of Edgerton’s later fiction can indeed be found here.
“Edgerton’s later novels have become Noir classics to many, and The Death of Tarpons hints at a moonless childhood that explains the author’s successful literary journeys into darkness.”
– Jack Getze, Spinetingler Magazine, 2017
In The Death of Tarpons, young Corey certainly encounters many episodes of darkness. Nearly all of the personal relationships around him are afflicted with violent outbursts or psychological abuse: the regular beatings of his best friend, Destin, and his mother at the hands of his drunken father; the violent reprimands Corey endures from his own father as well as the emotional neglect he and his mother receive from Corey’s father – a neglect that has driven his mother to religious fanaticism.
“Every atom in my body was in fear. I had never seen such a look on his face as there was now, not even at his angriest. It was like the face of God Himself, the face the fire and brimstone preacher Mom listened to, conjured up, Sunday mornings.”
Thus, the darkness one would expect from Edgerton’s work is present in his debut; however, it is tempered by the sweet nature of its protagonist and the loving relationship Corey has with his Grandpa.
What allows Edgerton to write across different genres with such success is something that all his works have in common: an honesty that can only come from personal experience. Edgerton has described The Death of Tarpons as being “85% autobiographical” and as being a work which was long in the making, having started writing it at the age of fifteen. The setting of the novel – 1950s era Freeport, Texas – was a place where Edgerton spent part of his childhood and many characters are drawn from real life with, for example, the author’s own grandmother being just as successful and driven a businesswoman as the Grandma character featured in the novel. Just as Edgerton’s own experience as an ex-con gives a realistic edge to his crime fiction, the same truthfulness can be found in his debut.
“The Oyster Bar. The business that had sustained three generations, mine and my sister Doc’s, my parents, and my grandparents. The business that, along with the taxi cab company, my grandmother had created and ruled as her own private fiefdom. Not with some metaphoric iron hand, but with a very real Navy Colt long-barreled .45 on the dash of her taxi”.
Honesty and credibility are what make Edgerton’s writings so distinctive and evocative. When reading The Death of Tarpons, one can really visualise what it was like being a young boy, just out on summer vacation with lots of great plans for how he was going to spend the holidays hanging out with his best friend, fishing with his Grandpa and getting closer to his dad.
“All the way downtown, I used lawns, head down, alert for nettles and stickers. When I had to cross a street, leave the coolness of grass, I ran faster, landing on different parts of the soles of my feet. First-day-of-summer-vacation-tootsies were too white and thin-skinned for concrete baked at ninety-plus degrees.”
As with the rest of Edgerton’s work, the vividness of his characters and settings is a result of his personal knowledge of what it was like to be a young teenage boy growing up at this time in the American South. The credibility that comes from writing about places and situations one is familiar with is what gives The Death of Tarpons, as well as Edgerton’s other novels, a distinctive edge.