Saturday, May 21, 2005


Red Romer Red Romer!

Ed Park's got a great Village Voice VLS account of Crippled Detectives, Or The War of the Red Romer, an extraordinary novella written in 1978 by a 7-year old Lee Tandy Schwartzman. It is a veritable modern The Young Visiters, Or Mr. Salteena's Plan:

This is how it goes with Crippled Detectives, a breakneck, brilliantly bizarre book packed with globe-trotting set pieces (South Dakota—Paris—the "hot Congo"), stories-inside-stories, fourth-wall demolition, and some of the most impossibly absurd dialogue legally available. (In the pièce de résistance, someone starts speaking in shapes.) There are shadowy sorrows, too, once we learn to read between the lines—but I'm getting ahead of the story.

As much as any book I know, Crippled Detectives transcribes the dream state, not just in its flights of fancy and logic-jumping juxtapositions, but in the mutating narrative tactics, the topsy-turvy focus (the climax is over in a flash, whereas digressions distend to marvelous effect), and especially the inconsistent point of view: "They" and "we" trade places, and a character named Lee is also sometimes "I." Thick with incident but ever on the verge of oblivion, the story contains its own negation. Things happen, but don't. For example, the titular heroes are only nominally crippled (hit by a falling tree or paralyzed by jellyfish poison, they're ambulatory again in no time) and engage in minimal sleuthing. "After they got better they were not well," runs a typical line. Yet contradiction becomes a heady virtue, and Crippled Detectives is a wonderfully sustained performance, a triumph of authorial impulse that never bores or confuses even as it runs circles around the helpless, happy reader.

Though Crippled Detectives was published by the magazine Stone Soup in the 1970s, and can also be found on the Stone Soup website here -- the author seemed to have vanished altogether, and the VLS article tracks down her heartbreaking and fascinating story.

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