Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reconsidering "Moon Over Willow Run"

Dusty Diary has ventured further into this book, and returns now with a report, seasoned by some pondering.

The boildown is that it's easy to snark at a book whose stilted language and silly plot invite armchair giggling. But it's more complicated than that.

Chapter 2 contains a long scene at a restaurant. Bob and Trilla have stopped there to refuel. Coincidentally, the proprietress is the mother of a girl Trilla worked with as a missionary overseas. Instant bond, wiping eyes, hugs, &c. But what's curious about this chapter is the focus on the food.

The food is described in great and sharp-focus detail, and dwelt upon, to a degree that made Dusty D pause a moment. Dan Patch wrote this work in the 40s as the chief of police. Likely he rose through the ranks for a number of years. Possibly he came from a blue-collar background, like Dusty D. Dusty D then remembered the chapter in David Halberstam's "The Fifties," describing the rise of McDonald's (stay with me, here). For many families, the little burger stands with 15 cent hamburgers offered the FIRST chance an average workingman could take his family out to eat--at ANY restaurant.

McDonald's, to those workingmen, was a rare luxury and a special thing.

Dusty D considered Dan Patch's possible childhood, without even this terribly modest, by today's standards, luxury. He lived through the Depression. Dusty D went back and reread the passages about luscious T-bone steaks and relish trays more carefully, and then I made a decision.

I like "Moon Over Willow Run."

I like it because this guy, without any apparent training in writing, got it in his head to write a book, and sat down, and he damn well wrote it, and this book was around 70 years later when I ordered it off Amazon.

Dusty D also reflected that it's easy to snark, it's twice as hard to criticize, it's twice as hard as criticizing as it is to create something, and it's twice as hard as creating something as it is to edit something well. I mean editing on the level of John Hilton at the Observer, the best editor I ever met.

Given that hierarchy, I have to respect someone who achieved what he set out to do and created something lasting. I also identify with him--he, like Dusty D, is an autodidactic craftsman, not an academically-trained writer. He's essentially doing the same thing I do. And I could laugh at his profligate adverbs, or jeer at his meandering plot, but the fact is that if I met him, the thing I'd do is shake his hand.

"Moon Over Willow Run" is a curious beast. It's not good by any objective standard of literature, but it's so oddly bad that the oddness turns out to be completely enchanting, and the man behind the book comes to be someone Dusty D respects, despite having probably nothing at all in common with him, least of all religion. Good on ya, Mr. Patch. More "Moon Over Willow Run" updates comin' up as time permits.


Dusty D said...

It's bad in the way a cross between Communion wafers and Cheetos would be bad.

In other words, good.

Edward Vielmetti said...

I read that as Cheerios for a second, and thought "hmm".

Dusty D said...

That would work as well. :D