One of my favorite novelists is Don Winslow, who writes mostly about crime and whose recently-completed Cartel trilogy stands among the best stories I’ve ever read, and but for all that I love his work, and follow it closely, and for all that I consider the man himself, and his famously Spartan work ethic, to be a great role model for how a writer should approach their work, I kinda don’t like his public persona. The Twitter moralist, the pundit, the political heckler.
Which isn’t something I’d normally bother to mention except that, after finishing The Cartel late last year, and waiting for a review copy of its sequel, The Border (which I reviewed for OLR), to hit my doorstep, I got kind of restless and did a dee dive into his Twitter feed, and through his interviews on YouTube and in print, and I found, along the way, a guy who’s eloquent and good-humored, a good talker when he wants to be, but also someone who’s surly and curt and whose incessant one-sided ranting about politics calls to mind some gnarled blend of like a surly, overworked, chain-smoking, sleeve-rolled, tie-loosened newspaper editor, and Abe Simpson.
It actually cut such a quickly unfavorable impression hat, knowing The Border was on its way, I wondered if—like with my unsavory Paul Auster encounter—I’d spoiled the series for myself by getting this bad impression of the author.
But it actually helped.
Don Winslow’s a citizen, and he’s pissed about lotsa shit that a citizen would have good reason to be pissed about. Focusing on his politics—the tenor of which does kinda eclipse all the avid and delightful cinephilic stuff on his feed—is gonna make him seem one-dimensional and apoplectic and decidedly unpleasant.
But as an author, as an entity existing on and within the pages of his work, Winslow’s something different. A storyteller, a craftsman, an entertainer. That his work is artful and a channel for self-expression is obvious—but if you’ve got a sense for when an author’s doing things for his own edification, forgetting about the reader, you’ll find that Winslow has virtually no such passages.
His work is incredibly giving.
Hard to say which of the two personas is truer to the core of who he is, the ascetic novelist or the angry citizen, but to read his novels feels, for me, like watching an exhaustive curmudgeon—“and another thing!”—step down from the pulpit of Twitter and pull prosthetics from his face while escorting me to some secret backstage bar where suddenly there’s no noise, and he’s talking like a confidant, reaching out, engaging.
Reading him, I get the Holden Caulfield vibe like, “This is a writer I’d hang out with.”
Seeing him on Twitter conveys the shrieking opposite (even though I think our politics are pretty well-aligned).
But that angry boisterous public self somehow makes the novels’ transcendent focusedness seem all the more powerful.
I’m a glutton for writer gossip and for checking out whatever can be gleaned of their private lives through interviews and articles, and I’m still not sure about whether that’s had a good or bad effect on my reading of the work, but this is one of the noteworthy instances of discovering something outside of a text that ended up making the text ten times better.