Wednesday, 10 August 2011


My obituary of Newton Thornburg is in today's Independent, you can link to it here. He's a strange contradiction in terms: he went off in totally different directions after his biggest successes, yet in the end went back to the same basic elements for all his best works. Sometimes those two strands conflate: Beautiful Kate (a lousy title, by the way) was both another riff on his theme of disfunctional families and romantic triangles, while at the same time approaching it in ways that made it hard to push either as crime or mainstream.

Thornburg wasn't high profile; in fact despite the delay I believe this was the first obituary to make it into national press in this country or the USA. In researching it, I was helped immensely by Bob Cornwell's excellent interview with Thornburg in Tangled Web, to which you can link here; Bob was also helpful with other details and his own take on Thornburg. I also got to quote my friends Michael Goldfarb and George Pelecanos in the piece, which may be their first joint appearance.

I'm not kidding when I mention the similarities in his best work: he returned to themes over and over. Spurred on by the assignment to write his obit, I decided to catch up, and starting reading Eve's Men (another less-than-perfect title), and even though it's been some years since my last Thornburg, it seemed very familiar indeed.

This is not to demean him. Cutter And Bone remains a pantheon work, like the film Cutter's Way it is one of those rare works that seems both just as good AND just as important as it did when it came out. I remember being bowled over by Beautiful Kate when I read it; as I recall on a visit back to my parents in the late Seventies, the kind of setting made for appreciating Thornburg's concerns. To Die In California is the other key book to check out, but start with Cutter And Bone and see if you aren't totally taken by it.

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