Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Newton Thornburg Interview 

The folks at Tangled Web have an excellent resource for crime fiction fans in Britain, and occasionally, come up with some wonderful original content. Their most recent addition is no exception, as Bob Cornwell tracks down an underrated gem in the genre. Newton Thornburg is the author of CUTTER AND BONE, which was turned into the 80s movie CUTTER'S WAY, and is considered to be something of a noir classic. He wrote 10 other novels, but only two others--TO DIE IN CALIFORNIA (1973) and DREAMLAND (1983) are in print in the UK, thanks to the efforts of Serpent's Tail.

Cornwell's interview is extensive, as he goes into much detail about Thornburg's career and his impact on noir fiction, even on those that may not otherwise realize it. But sadly, there will be no more novels:

Life has not been kind in recent years to Newton Thornburg. In 1986 his "lovely long marriage" to Karin, his wife of 33 years, ended when she died, he has lost a beloved son to alcoholism and seven years ago Thornburg suffered a stroke that has left him paralysed down his left side. Living with government help in a retirement home near Seattle, he is wheelchair bound, unable to walk, even the most simple tasks a trial. "Sometimes", he tells me early on, "it takes me a while to get to the phone."

Most of all he is physically unable to write. Somehow he managed to complete Eve's Men (1998), though some of it was written ten years before, and that book remains his last published work. He remains philosophical: "A lot of old guys write one more book", he instances Norman Mailer, "and they shouldn't."

Is he philosophical because there's nothing he can do about it, or because there's nothing he can do about his inability to express himself in print that he can be philosophical about it? Obviously, the answer to that question will not be forthcoming anytime soon. But what a shame regardless. And although I'd long been meaning to try one of Thornburg's books, I think I'll be on the lookout in a much more urgent manner after reading this interview.

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