I realize there are bigger name authors in the crime fiction genre, but I find it hard to believe there’s a better writer in the bunch than Omaha’s own Sean Doolittle, who has mastered the form in a string of books that catapult you along without sacrificing depth. The following story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) is about Doolittle’s novel Safer and this blog contains an earlier story I did about his novel The Cleanup. I heartily recommend these and anything by the author. It’s been a couple years since I’ve read anything by or written anything about Doolittle, and so I have a feeling there’s a new Doolittle story I need to catch up to as a reader and a writer, which means you should expect a new Doolittle post sometime this year.
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com
Sean Doolittle lives a life of crime. In his head. The Omaha crime novelist (Rain Dogs, The Cleanup) commits imaginary transgressions to the page that explore the consequences of deceit, greed and other deadly sins of omission and commission.
His new work, Safer, is billed by publisher Delacorte Press as “a novel of suspense.” Like the best crime fiction it transcends genre, in this case studying social patterns gone awry and primal emotions under duress.
Paul, the smart alleck English Lit prof protagonist, is suspected of an offense he didn’t commit. While no saint — his judgment’s not always sound — he’s no killer either. The suspense hinges on his desperate attempts to clear his name. The closer he nears the truth, the more leading citizens are implicated in a conspiracy. He may not survive the telling.
After a brief set-up Doolittle starts the book with Paul being jailed. The author then alternates past-present passages with Paul describing what led to the charges being filed and his frantic, against-all-odds search for justice. The approach grabs and holds us but only came to Doolittle much struggle.
“This is a book where the narrative structure is what really ended up opening the book up for me,” he said. “I started writing it as sort of a very linear start-at-point-A and go-to-point-Z narrative and I just could not find any traction that way…I couldn’t see ahead. I’d been stuck at like the same spot for a long time.”
Then it came to him. Finding his way into the story meant plunking Paul into the soup earlier than envisioned. It works, serving as the knot whose unraveling reveals the underlying mystery.
“That’s the first time that’s happened that way,” he said. “Usually the structure is not quite so important to the way the story plays out, but the structure is the essence of that undoing sort of quality.”
As Doolittle exposes layer after layer we see the seemingly idyllic setting Paul and wife Sarah occupy in their new Midwest home has a dark side. Despite a break-in, the couple’s suburban cul-de-sac residence appears safe due to the ever vigilant neighborhood patrols and monitoring done by an ex-cop neighbor, Roger.
Only Paul discovers Roger’s benevolent facade and keen interest in keeping the block a closely-watched, hyper-guarded, tight-knit community masks something more than the tragedies that took his son and wife there. Something sinister. As the outsider, nonjoiner Paul questions Roger’s manipulation of his neighbors. Roger sees himself as their protector. He plays on their sympathies and weaknesses to maintain control. Paul sees it as creepy, intrusive.
Doolittle said the structure “underscores” the theme of people distorting information and perceptions to their own ends. As readers we learn, along with Paul, what’s behind Roger’s avuncular front, why he’s so security-conscious and how far he’s prepared to go to prevent anyone from outing him.
Roger’s a microcosm for those who use extreme measures in the name of security. Draw what analogies you will with certain geopolitical events.
“It wasn’t my intention to write an allegory for Iraq or something like that,” said Doolittle. “Whatever parallels are there are there, but it was reducing that giant global complicated issue to a neighborhood that interested me.”
Roger’s warped POV justifies his actions. “That’s what ultimately it always comes down to — it’s within your own mind what you think is appropriate to protect yourself or your family or your neighborhood,” said Doolittle.
The introduction of a wild card like Paul upsets Roger’s carefully arranged order. As Paul notices things are awry, the utopia’s threatened. In Roger’s eyes Paul’s a problem needing removal.
A dark obsession acted out requires elaborate subterfuge to conceal the misdeed. Doolittle said he’s fascinated by how “your actions stay with you the rest of your life. What is Faulkner’s line? — ‘The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.’ Something I’ve sort of inadvertently come back to in more than one book,” said Doolittle, “is the idea of lying and what it takes to maintain a lie. It’s that mounting desperation of Roger trying to keep a grasp on things that eventually undoes it all.
“The thing that’s so fascinating to me is you hear about some outlandish thing somebody’s done, and you think, ‘How do you get to that point?’ That’s always the question. It’s not a new concept but it remains compelling. Each step you take, each time you do something you didn’t think you’d do, it makes it easier to take the next one, and easier to take the next one…”
Safer represents new territory for Doolittle. It’s his first hard-cover book. Delacorte’s pushing it hard. Odds are a novel by Doolittle, who’s earned praise from crime lit superstars, will eventually be a best seller. One’s sure to end up on the big screen, too. A major Hollywood agent who’s a huge fan shops his work around the studios. The author isn’t quitting his day job just yet but with each project, including the revenge novel he’s working on now, he’s closer to cleaning up. For the time being though he plays it safe.
- The Worth of Things Explored by Sean Doolittle in his New Crime Novel ‘The Cleanup’ (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Lit Fest Brings Author Carleen Brice Back Home Flush with the Success of Her First Novel, ‘Orange Mint and Honey’ (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- The Many Worlds of Science Fiction Author Robert Reed (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
Author-journalist-blogger Leo Adam Biga resides in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. He writes newspaper-magazine stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions. He's the author of the books "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter's Perspective 1998-2012," a compilation of his journalism about the acclaimed filmmaker, and "Open Wide" a biograpy of Mark Manhart. Biga co-edited "Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores." His popular blog, leoadambiga.wordpress.com, is an online gallery of his work.
- Forget unfollowers, I believe in growing. 18 new followers in the last week! Stats via crowdfireapp.com/?r=tw 4 days ago
- Most impactul filmmaker ever from Neb. not named Payne? Joan Micklin Silver. Among TCM's Trailblazing Women in Film. leoadambiga.com/2010/05/18/sha… 4 days ago
- Firmly Rooted, the Story of Husker Brothers leoadambiga.com/2015/09/29/fir… 5 days ago
My Favorite Tags
My Favorite Categories
Calendar of Blog Posts
Categories from A to Z and # of Posts
- Color-blind love: Five interracial couples share their stories
- Long-Separated Brother and Sister from Puerto Rico Reunited in Omaha
- Born Again Ex-Gang Banger and Pugilist, Now Minister, Servando Perales Makes Victory Boxing Club His Mission Church for Saving Youth from the Streets
- 'Lovely, Still' is that Rare Film Depicting Seniors in All Their Humanity
- From the Archives: Monika Kelly Recalls her Late Father, the Beloved Clown and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Legend, Emmett Kelly Sr.
- Brandeis Story: Great Plains Family-Owned Department Store Empire
- Coloring History, A Long, Hard Road for UNO Black Studies
- John Beasley and Sons Make Acting a Family Thing at the John Beasley Theater & Workshop and Beyond
- Paul Williams: Alive and Well, Sober and Serene, Making Memorable Music Again at 74
- Theater-Fashion Maven Elaine Jabenis
- Firmly Rooted, the Story of Husker Brothers
- Father Ken Vavrina CROSSING BRIDGES News
- Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad: Creative Siblings Move Past Labels to Make Their Marks
- Tim Christian: Changing the Face of Film in Nebraska
- FINDING HOME: With its own home, the Blue Barn completes a long road to creating edgy theater
- Omaha’s Culinary Culture Rises: Dedicated Local Chefs Elevate Your Dining Experience
- Life comes full circle for singer Carol Rogers
- My new book with Father Ken Vavrina, ‘Crossing Bridges: A Priest’s Uplifting Life Among the Downtrodden,’ officially releases today – August 26, 2015
- Praise for my recent story, ‘Change in North Omaha, It’s Been a Long Time Coming…’
- A NOTE FROM NORTH OMAHA SUMMER ARTS’ Pamela Jo Berry
- Exclusive excerpts from my new book with Father Ken Vavrina- Crossing Bridges: A Priest’s Uplifting Life Among the Downtrodden
- Exclusive excerpts from my new book with Father Ken Vavrina: Crossing Bridges, A Priest’s Uplifting Life Among the Downtrodden
- 481,245 hits