Review Of Michael
Malone’s Red Clay, Blue Cadillac
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 11/16/08
Michael Malone is most well known for being the lead writer on the American soap opera One Life To Live. As someone who has watched soap operas and other serial fictions for years, I do not hold this against him. However, having read his collection of twelve stories centered on Southern belles, Red Clay, Blue Cadillac, I can say that he certainly doesn’t hide the fact of his past employment. Overall, it’s a solid book- with some bad stories and a few good ones; although nothing great. Malone, in a sense, is a very generic Southern writer. All the standbys are in his work- murder, lust, drinking, red necks, etc. And, good or bad, his tales are loaded with melodrama of the sort that soap operas purvey.
The first tale, Stella: Red Clay, is perhaps the best in the book, following the decades-long obsession of a boy and his father, Buddy and Clayton Hayes, with a B film starlet, Stella Dora Doyle, who marries well and then murders her husband, only to get off because of some legal maneuvering. Years later, after the father, who was a high school classmate of the starlet, dies, the son meets up with the actress- Stella- and discovers the truth behind the murder. It is a well-structured tale, and uses the soap opera machinations inherent in its telling to great effect. Also, the fades in and out to different time periods works well. It won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1997, from the Mystery Writers Of America, and appears in Best Mystery Stories Of The Century.
Marie: Blue Cadillac, originally published in Playboy, does not work nearly so well, as it follows Marie, its blond titular character, and her obsession with Elvis Presley play out as she seduces swindles a gullible would-be suitor: Braxton Cox, who is heading home to Memphis in his Mustang for Thanksgiving. Precious: Winners And Losers follows a divorcee who is troubled over his ex-wife’s pending remarriage. Charmain: White Trash Noir is another murder tale that starts off in media res, but is not as good as the first one. It follows a woman who offs her college basketball star husband, and gets sentenced to some time, even though the shooting was really an accident. While the character study of Charmain is strong, the rest of the tale is rather sparsely detailed, and not particularly interesting, as well as too long. Malone does a good job rendering the lead’s character and lack of self-esteem. The realistic question of whether Charmain will air her marriage’s dirty laundry to save herself from a conviction is what gives the tale a nice tension that lesser tales lack.
Lucy: Maniac Loose follows the lead character after she confronts her dead husband’s lover, and attempting to psychically screw her. The lover ends up dying, and Lucy strolls naked through town. Do not be thrown by this description- it’s a very good tale. The ending, where Lucy is on trial the same day as a man who shot his wife, who is the maniac of the title, is quite strong:
Testifying over his lawyer’s protest that he’d tried to kill his wife and her lover but had ‘just messed it up’, the maniac pleaded guilty. So did Lucy. She admitted she was creating as much of a public disturbance as she could. But unlike the maniac’s, her sentence was suspended, and afterwards the whole charge was erased from the record….A few months later, Lucy went to visit the maniac at the state penitentiary. She brought him a huge box of presents from the going-out-of-business sale at The Fun House. They talked for a while, but conversation wasn’t easy, despite the fact that Lucy not only felt they had a great deal in common, but that she could have taught him a lot about getting away with murder.
Flonnie: The Rise Of The South And Flonnie Rogers details the life of a bitchy old black woman that might be best described as Miss Jane Pittman with a ‘tude. It is slight, with some humor, but fairly forgettable. Patty: Love And Other Crimes, at forty-eight pages, is far too long, and another murder tale that is a shadow of the first two. A good five pages is wasted on describing the titular character’s past husbands, very little of which is relevant to the tale. Meredith: Fast Love is a simple little romance, as a bumpkin falls for the first woman jogger he has ever seen. It won an O. Henry Award. Angie: The Power is a solid story following a small town clique’s obsession with pro baseball and murder theories regarding Marilyn Monroe. Mona: Miss Mona’s Bank describes an old woman’s talking two bank robbers out of their crime. Betty: A Deer On The Lawn is a rather soulless tale of a woman who gets her wish in getting out of her loveless marriage when her husband dies. Mattie: An Invitation To The Ball is another overly long tale of murder- probably the least affecting tale in the book.
Overall, the book is a sturdy collection, although not particularly quotable. It is not a poetic prose, and not likely to cling to someone’s bosom the way many other writers’ words do. In a sense, Malone’s prose, if a car, is a serviceable beater- not particularly memorable, nor pleasing to look at, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do more often than not, and that is entertain. Does it enlighten? No, no more than most soap operas do. But, there is something refreshing in the best of his unpretentious tales. Perhaps it is called enjoyment?
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Hackwriters website.]
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