The Lost Get-Back Boogie Hardcover – Sep 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This wonderful novel about a Korean War veteran released in the '60s from a Louisiana prison farm where he served a term for manslaughter is neither roman tic nor cynical in its realism. Loner Iry Paret, a country-and-western musician, has survived two years of hacks, trustees and dangerous inmates, not with hope but with a dull, gloomy attentiveness that has written hardship's effects all over him. Once he is paroled, he drinks liquor as if it were a tonic, but even drinking brings no joy. He travels to a fellow prisoner's ranch, and as he heads west, the air clears. His involvement with his acid-dropping pal Buddy Rior dan, Buddy's stoical ex-cowboy father (who feuds with a foul-odored pulpmill) and Buddy's estranged wife, Beth, tugs him between adjustment to straight life and the battles that may send him back to jail. Although the ending strays, this latest novel by the author of The Convict is pensive and cautiously paced. It also contrasts two very different parts of the essence of Americathe hazy bayou and a resolute valley in the beautiful West.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
"Powerfully written." -- "The New York Times Book Review" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
There is only one thing that saves this novel and makes it worth reading: James Lee Burke is one of the finest writers of all time.
You've heard the old cliche that a writer could publish his grocery list, and it would be worth reading. Well, that applies here. Burke takes this meandering, pointless tale and injects so much beauty, tragedy, evocative detail and insight into every page to make the book worth reading.
In fact, reading the main character's observations of his surroundings, the people he's associated with or even life in general one sees the birth of Dave Robicheaux's voice. There are beautiful passages where I caught myself thinking for a moment that I WAS reading one of Burke's Robicheaux adventures. Considering that Burke's next book after this one was The Neon Rain, it's clear that he knew he'd hit on the right voice and tone with Boogie and just needed a more appropriate stage and gave to Robicheaux all of Boogie's narrator's way with words.
Would I recommend The Lost Get-Back Boogie? If you're a Burke fan, definitely. For someone looking for a quick read while traveling, etc? No, any of his other books would better fit the bill. If you are a lover of the written word and want to read some beautiful prose just to wallow in Burke's ability to bump one work up against another, then, yes, Boogie is for you. In the hands of any other author, this book would have been buried by the sands of time. Burke makes the mundane shine here. It's Burke's writing ability alone that netted him the 3rd star in my rating above. For story, this is a 2-star novel at best.
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Buddy, Iry's friend from Angola, calls him Zeno. Zeno was the Greek founder of Stoicism, the school of impassivity, indifference to pleasure or pain. Buddy, the mean-drunk tilter at alcohol-induced windmills, enlists his friend the stoic in his battle against his own - and his family's - demons. Even the trucks and cars in their life are beset by the devils of redneck vengeance and drunken driving on mountain roads.
It is painful to accompany Iry and Buddy as they drink, and weather jail, brawls, vicious beatings, cruel attacks on Buddy's father's beloved horses and wild birds. Burke's descriptive powers evoke sympathetic response as our eyes blear and our limbs numb and our nostrils fill with the stink of pervasive whiskey and beer, and we wish to God no one ever hurt like this.
With the same power of words, Burke sets us first in Louisiana and then in Montana. We see the Mississippi River and prisoners clearing cane fields of tree roots; we feel the sun and smell the damp from the bayou. Montana is given to us gloriously; river, mountain, sky, clean crisp air, the dust of unpaved roads, taste of trout just taken from icy streams, snow crystals in a woman's hair. Burke is an extraordinary visual writer - what he shows you, you see. The juxtaposition of this enormous grandeur with the sad and violent men who are imprisoned in murky impulses and urges is somehow not jarring.
Iry's wanderings through various "dirty little corners of the universe" can barely be called a quest. He avoids reflection; else he may have to admit other's evaluation; that "I had a little screw in the back of my head turned a few degrees off center." Alcohol can do that to you, but Iry doesn't realize it. Burke's well-known character Dave Robicheaux is what Iry could become if he stumbled into sobriety. Robicheaux still has his lesser demons, but he's been given a daily reprieve from the clutches of the big one.
We like Iry and Buddy; even their enemies are not without our sympathy. The images Burke draw remain long after the book is closed and are a compelling reason to brave the discomfort of reading through to the end. Burke is in the forefront of the genre of recovering alcoholic detective. The Lost Get-Back Boogie, certainly outside the genre and not a mystery novel at all, will intrigue fans of Dave Robicheaux and perhaps adds depth to our understanding of him.
In Iry Paret we have Burke's hallmark character: The strong, silent type, tough as nails and sharp as razor blades, who is yet a thinking, sensitive, deeply caring man; a young Louisiana blues singer, veteran of the Korean war, who wants nothing more than to be left in peace to play his guitar, sing his blues -- and finish the song he has been trying to write for years! Though he came home from the war unable to hunt and kill animals, he has done time in Angola for killing a man in a barroom brawl. It seemed to have been a case of self-defense but Iry, with the sense of guilt he wears like a mantle around his shoulders, is convinced he deserved the sentence.
As Beth Riordan, the woman he comes to love, says to him, "You are a strange mixture of men." Yes. But a totally believable mixture. And totally sympathetic. So when, before the first chapter ends, Iry with his new parole walks away from Angola, we find we are walking with him, in his shoes, inside his skin. By giving us a close-up look at the prison, showing us where Iry's coming from, Burke evokes in us a greater desire to see him stay out of trouble. As he walks up that dusty road, refusing a ride in the prison truck because he "has to air it out," we know tha! t just one misstep -- and Iry will make plenty of them -- could hurl him right back where he came from. And we are afraid from him.
Iry reaches his bayou home to find his father dying of cancer, both his brother and sister more foe than friend, and all his old friends dispersed and lost to him, no longer making music. When his father dies two weeks later, he gets his parole transferred to Montanna where he joins his one last friend Buddy Riordan, whom he befriended in prison.
Montanna looks like paradise to Iry, but there's trouble brewing. Rancher Frank Riordan, Buddy's father who sponsored Iry's parole transfer, is fighting the new factories that are polluting Montana. And the workers in those factories are fighting back. Though he tries to claim neutrality, Iry is pulled inexorably into that trouble until he is fighting not only for his freedom but for his very life.
This heart-wrenching, heart-warming novel is ultimately a love story. For in the end it is love that must overcome all, if all is to be overcome. Iry falls in love with Beth, Buddy's ex-wife, another guilt-evoking situation because Buddy is still trying to win her back. Can Iry have this love without betraying his friend? And will that love give him strength to transcend his own flawed nature? When everything shatters around him, will love enable him to withstand all the forces that are striving to bring him down? And finally to finish writing his song, "The Lost Get-Back Boogie"?