What’s with all the goomba bling bling? Theannouncement of the continuation of the Godfather sagahas so far been greeted with a sound, I imagine, of sheep grazingin the meadow. (I wouldn’t know that sound, never having beenprivy to such rustic entertainment.) The fractious (and admirable)bunch that scour the infosphere for various tidbits about books,literature, authors and the assorted craven despots and vulgariansthat exploit them seem to have swallowed without much commentaryRandom House’s press release about MarkWinegardner’s annointment to the Puzo mantle.
Bah! (Is that a sheep sound?) I can remember atleast two instances in which an author’s estate sought furtherenrichment by having an unfinished novel completed or just puttingthe deceased’s name on posthumously created work; Robert Parker'sPoodle Springs was said to be a Raymond Chandler novel.Suffice it to say, it was not a masterpiece or even entertaining(Parker may even have gone on to write a complete Chandleresquenovel) and Ian Fleming’s name was, I believe, subsumed byJohn Gardner. Neither of these instances are high points in literaryhistory.
What struck me as significant was the lack of discussionof this practice of extending an author’s brand and the absurdpossibilities it subsumes(deep freezing authors?). World hungerfor mafiosi-inspired tales continues unabated (Good Fellas,The Sopranos, regularly aired on network TV how-I-beat-the-mobstories), so the underlying motive for the nuevo Godfatheris hardly a mystery. But, I wonder, might this not lead to a newbreed category of publishing? In the past, some authors have tinkeredwith updated versions of Mark Twain and other masters (there seemto be frequent attempts to update various Shakespearean dramas).I for one wondered what happened to Catch 22's Yossarian.There are many other stories (that their creators wisely left asthey were) that might now be revived by publishing houses (if wemay still call them that).
Two of the names mentioned as contenders in thestory about the Godfather bear further comment. Vince Patrickwrote the novel that the wonderful movie Pope of Greenwich Villagewas based on and seems to have gone on to a successful career writingfor movies. His novel Smokescreen was a readable thrillerbased on various secret agency type shenanigans with archenemy FidelCastro. The other name mentioned, James Carlos Blake has writtenThe Pistoleer: A Novel of John Wesley Hardin, In the Rogue Blood,Wildwood Boys, Borderlands: Short Fictions, Red Grass River, A Legend,The Friends of Pancho Villa and A World of Thieves.Blake is a pretty fine writer and storyteller with the humor andcompassion of James Lee Burke and the dark vision of Cormac McCarthy.It will be interesting to see whether being mentioned in this storygains Blake any readers.
Anyway, I am glad for the talented Mark Winegardner,though I hope that this work-for-hire does not distract him fromthe fine writing he is already producing. And who knows, the possibility,of course exists that he will turn out something wonderful and remarkable.
We’ll find out soon enough.
The Crocodile by Robert Birnbaum