George V. Higgins’ Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years
The cover of this 1988 paperback quotes the New York Times Book Review: “Very readable, often hilarious.” I don’t know about “hilarious”, but it is very readable – although it can be pretty slow going at times as well.
For those unfamiliar with the author, George V. Higgins, he’s a crime writer best known for his book The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a 1970 novel that was made into a 1973 movie starring Robert Mitchum. As well, I think crime fiction writer Elmore Leonard has cited Higgins – a former attorney-turned-novelist – as an influence.
You can see the influence on Leonard in Higgins’ use of dialogue – in fact, Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years is almost all dialogue. This takes some getting used to, and the downside is that some characters’ voices are more interesting than others.
But I liked Higgins people, from businessmen to lawyers to hairdressers to chauffeurs, and the all-dialogue format makes parsing the actual plotline (something to do with Boston politics) a challenge, but that’s part of the fun. One of the more interesting aspects of the novel is how Higgins introduces an AIDS subplot – but though this dates the book it doesn’t make the book dated, if you know what I mean.
Although I suspect this isn’t the best introduction to Higgins – it’s 400 pages and dense; for crime fiction fans, it’s only peripherally about a crime – it’s a worthwhile read. The gold-embossed cover on the secondhand paperback edition I picked up is a nice bonus, and harks back to the days when even a more literary work like this could get the mass-market bestseller “airport book” treatment.