SAVE ME, JOE LOUIS by Madison Smartt Bell


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 Self-indulgent underbelly-of-life saga about two small-time crooks who weave their way from New York to Baltimore to the South before blowing each other away. Bell's saving graces--gritty texture and occasional hard-boiled stylishness--aren't enough to save this one. Macrae, our hero, likes to hang out in Battery Park with Charlie, a near-psychotic, and sidle up to yuppies with cash cards, use their cards to the limit, then drink or shoot up the proceeds before doing it again. (Macrae also carries a sketch pad with him and draws things and has a heart of gold.) The novel's first movement reaches its tedious end when Macrae takes vengeance on a pimp (who's blown away a prostitute friend) by beating him to pulp with a baseball bat. Then Macrae and Charlie hightail it in the first of dozens of stolen cars. With Porter, a black ex-con, junkie, and all-around dispenser of wisdom along for the ride, they steal guns, commit armed robberies, and generally raise hell until they reach the backcountry South, where Macrae runs into Lacy, his old girlfriend. Trouble is, Macrae doesn't get it on with Lacy, so Charlie boffs her while Macrae does chores, milks cows, looks into haying. There's more armed robbery and good-old-boy goings-on, but everything gets worked out after high-speed car chases and fireplay when Charlie tries to blow Macrae to kingdom come but gets blown away himself--just in time for Lacy and Macrae to exchange looks ``as if they were seeing each other for the first time in their lives.'' Even worse, Bell (Doctor Sleep, 1991, etc.) plagiarizes and parodies his earlier self at several turns. Readers would do better to turn to Richard Price's Clockers, and Bell would be better served if he stayed with shorter forms, where the need to compress and shape allows his considerable talent to shine.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-15-179432-4
Page count: 380pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993


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