Sunday, 19 December 2010

On Broadway [books]


Wiseguys, small-scale bookies, broken down beauties and sassy young dolls are the characters who populate this collection. Three books of short stories, all from the late 1930s, by newspaperman Damon Runyon make up this volume. It's not about the big shows, but the bars and streetlife around Broadway. The really unusual thing about it is the way it's written, in the first-person singular, present tense. For example. "He gets to thinking of how he will relish a soft, gentle, loving hand on his brow at this time, and finally he makes a pass at one of the nurses, figuring she may comfort his lonely hours, but what she lays on his brow is a beautiful straight right cross…" (Go on, tell me you didn't read that to yourself in a 'Noo Yoik' accent!)

The stories mix good humour with violence and pathos. My favourite story, 'Little Miss Marker', about a child abandoned with a miserly old bookie in lieu of a debt, isn't violent but it is a heartbreaker. They're all proper short stories – I've read some lately for work, and I do wish authors would realise a short story is not the same as a vignette they couldn't quite work into one of their novels. These stories have proper beginnings and endings, with carefully chosen words so each is a well-polished gem.

You can't get this volume any more, but one with a different cover is available on Amazon right now. Penguin do have Guys and Dolls, an earlier collection of Runyon's stories in print.

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