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Leslie CharterisEllison writes with sensitivity as well as guts---a rare combination.
— creator of The Saint
There's really no point to writing an introduction to a novel. A book of short stories, sure, okay. A collection of essays, definitely. A scholarly tome, naturally. But what the hell should one have to say about an entertainment, a fiction, a novel? Nothing. It should speak for itself.
And I intend to let it.
Even so, I'd like to make one brief statement about the book. Bear with me; I won't be long.
There's a story told about Hemingway--I don't know if it's true or not, but if it isn't, it ought to be. The story goes that he was either on his way to France or on his way back from France, one or the other, I don't recall the specifics of the anecdote that well. He was on shipboard, and he had with him his first novel. Not THE SUN ALSO RISES; the one he wrote before that "first novel" that made him a literary catchword almost overnight.
Yes, the story goes, Hemingway had written a book before THE SUN ALSO RISES, and there he was aboard ship, steaming either here or there; and he was at the rail, leaning over, thinking, and then he took the boxed manuscript of the book ... and threw it into the ocean.
Apparently on the theory that no one should ever read a writer's first novel.
Which would mean--were all writers to subscribe to that theory--we'd never have had ONE HUNDRED DOLLAR MISUNDERSTANDING or THE CATCHER IN THE RYE or FROM HERE TO ETERNITY or THE SEVEN WHO FLED OR THE PAINTED BIRD or GONE WITH THE WIND or...?
Well, you get the idea.
I don't know whether to argue with the theory or not, but I suppose I'm lobbying against it by permitting (nay, encouraging) this reprint of myfirst novel, WEB OF THE CITY. It was my first book, written under mostly awful personal circumstances, and I'm rather fond of it. I've re-read it this last week, just to find out how amateurish and inept it is, and I find it still holds the interest. I even gave it to a couple of nasty types who profess to being my friends when they aren't sticking it in my back, and even they say it's worth preserving.
So the book is alive once more.
The time about which it speaks is gone--the early Fifties; and the place it talks about has changed somewhat--Brooklyn, the slums. But it has a kind of innocent verve about it that commends it to your attention. I hope, of course, that you'll agree with me.
In case you might wonder, I wrote it around the tail end of 1956 and the first three months of 1957. I was drafted in March of 1957 and wrote the bulk of the book while undergoing the horrors of Ranger basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. After a full day, from damned near dawn till well after dusk, marching, drilling, crawling on my belly across infiltration courses, jumping off static-line towers, learning to carve people up with bayonets and break their bodies with judo and other unpleasant martial arts, our company would be fed and then hustled into a barracks, where the crazed killers who were my fellow troopers would clean their weapons, spit-shine their boots, and then collapse across their bunks to sleep the sleep of the tormented. I, on the other hand, would take a wooden plank, my Olympia typewriter, and my box of manuscript and blank paper, and would go into the head (that's the toilet to you civilized folks), place the board across my lap as I sat on one of the potties, and I would write this book.
After the first couple of fist fights, they stopped complaining about the noise and let me alone. But Sgt. Jacobowski called me, in his dragon's voice, "The Author." The way he pronounced it, it always came out sounding like The Aw-ter.
The editor who bought the book originally, who took the first chance on me as a novelist, was a wonderful guy named Walter Fultz. He was the editor at Lion Books, a minor paperback house that gave a lot of newcomers a break. Walter is dead now, tragically, before his time, but I think he would have liked to've seen how long-lived this book has become, and how the kid he gave a break has come along.
Lion Books went out of business before they could release WEB OF THE CITY, and the backlog of titles was sold here and there. Pyramid Books then bought the manuscript.
Posted July 1, 2000
The plot of 'Web of the City' is static and episodic, and the pacing lags between the fight scenes. There are also language problems: the Puerto Rican gang slang may well be authentic but it 'reads' contrived. In spite of this, 'Web' is more enjoyable than the current vogue of rediscovered 'gems' of 50s noir novels by Jim Thompson or David Goodis. <p> This novel has glimmers of Ellison's future greatness. My favorite line is at the end of Chapter 6: 'The past screamed and Rusty heard.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.