Thursday, October 1, 2009

On Bus Stations and Restaurants: The Lime Pit by Jonathan Valin

Given that Jonathan Valin’s The Lime Pit was first published in 1980, I’m holding over my review until tomorrow as a Forgotten Friday book. The novel was recommended to me in my plea for crime novels set in Ohio or Kentucky (where I’m heading to in ten days time) and The Lime Pit is set in both – Cleveland (Ohio) and Newport (Kentucky).

This is the first Valin book I’ve read, but what strikes me about his writing is that he’s a great observational writer, both with respect to characters and places. Here are two passages concerning everyday spaces of the city – the bus terminal and the restaurant – that I think capture the essence of both.

No matter how noisy a bus terminal gets – and on a July Saturday they get pretty damn loud – you can always hear your own footsteps echoing above the crackle of the loudspeakers, the hiss of air brakes, the soft sigh of bus doors opening, and the amplified roar of the diesels as they pull out of their loading docks. I don’t know how they do it, how they calculate the eigentones and reflecting angles to bring the click of heels and shoe leather into such crisp prominence. Nor do I understand why bus stations are always made to look so dreary. Or why the people sitting on the hard blue-and-red plastic benches are invariably as cheerless and sullen-looking as the gaunt men and women in Walker Evan’s studies of the rural poor. Even the attendants and guards are seedy and impassive, and everyone looks too damn bored to talk about it. If there’s an urban hell, the bus station must come pretty close to being it.

The Bee shut down at half past nine. I sat alone in the dining room while the waitresses cleared the tables and smoked and joked and toasted one another with empty Coke glasses. A restaurant is a far cheerier place after the customers are gone. Everyone is loose and clubby. Left-overs are eaten. Drinks are poured. No one wants to go home. It’s like leaving a warm, friendly kitchen.

I recognise both descriptions and they’re spot on. And one more for good luck.

When this was just a market town, maybe Cindy Ann could have afforded to come here wide-eyed and unwary. But cities grow up and become delinquents. Even cities as strict and unglamourous as this one. Years pass and what is just a smirk or a piece of conventional wisdom out in the farmlands becomes an industry in the flats.

I like the idea of cities as delinquents. I also managed to find these other covers.

No comments: