Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (2007, Scribner)
In Born Standin Up, Steve Martin presents a targeted autobiography of his years performing stand-up comedy. Some pages are devoted to his childhood as a means of giving context to his stand-up years and some are devoted to the lingering effects on his life that resulted, but there is very little regarding his film career, his touring time as a musician, or Hollywood insider stories. This is to the book’s, and the reader’s, benefit.
Instead what is given is a look at exactly what was required for his blockbuster success in the 1970s, and why he walked away from that version of the spotlight when he was seemingly at the height of his popularity. It’s full of candid observations, as befits a person who studied logic and philosophy and earned a living appealing to human nature.
Martin treats himself very well in the book. There is little of the selfish or petty that is provided through the book, although his casual mentions of sleeping partners and his efforts to avoid the draft certainly indicate there are skeletons in his closet from this time. The book seems incomplete for that reason, but that is a minor quibble, because what is provided is excellent.
Martin’s experience at writing comedy, short fiction and novels, and the years he spent working on the book, give him the ability to present his story in a way that differs from the standard entertainment biography; Martin is the writer of this, and he’s trying to tell his story. What results is a very tight narrative about his successes and failures – his many, many failures – that captures the reader and keeps them engaged to the end.
Lynched by Ed Gorman (2003, Berkley)
The beauty of the western is that it can accommodate nearly every other type of story. Westerns are as much about setting as anything else: the Southwest or Plains America during settlement times and events that could have happened there. The setting isn’t just the landscapes and devices of the day, however; it’s also the attitudes of the people, who were generally God-fearing, self-sufficient and freedom-loving.
Ed Gorman was one of a handful of writers who specialized in mystery stories but loved the western. Along with Bill Pronzini, Elmore Leonard, Robert Randisi, Tom Piccirilli, Joe R. Lansdale, Bill Crider and a couple of others, he produced award-winning western fiction regularly, often using his mystery and thriller sensibilities to guide the story.
Lynched is one such story, a mystery set as a western. A lawman returns home from a trip to find his wife murdered and a man lynched. The book follows his attempts to find the killer while handling his grief, and in this case the local community becomes its own character. People who know him and trust him are suddenly quiet; there are rumors around the town about the murders, and he is not privy to them. The sense of betrayal pervades the book and validates the eventual payoff.
Gorman was a consistently good writer, and his westerns in particular tended to shine. This is a great example of his work, and one which should please any western fan.