32 Cadillacs opens with a preface in which Joe Gores claims that the bones of the titular scheme, in which hapless Bay Area dealerships are confidence-tricked out of a boatload of caddies, are rooted in his real-world repoman experiences. And he cautions the easily offended that they’ll find plenty of fodder, but that he can’t “sanitize the tough and lively world” he writes of.
My reactions were extremely mixed. Many of the grifts Gores details are entertaining, and even edifying. Gores’ prose is a little patchy, but sometimes evokes the likes of Leonard or Westlake:
At the back of the lot he went up three wooden steps and into a little frame office strung with dismal glittery tinsel. Inside was a scarred wooden desk bearing a telephone, a heap of curly black hair the size of a Norway rat, and the shoes of a man reading a skin magazine.
Gores even pays his respects to an author he’s indebted to with an homage I won’t spoil, but found delightful.
But the more clearly artificial elements of the plot are also a little clunky, particularly the belabored parallelism between a pair of Romani siblings and the Gadjo (non-Romani) they get involved with.
Although the novel features some tough, smart women, it’s scarcely feminist. And Gores’ characters use racial slurs with such casual ubiquity that it almost felt like it like should’ve been set in some pre-Civil Rights decade. (Gores humanizes most of his minorities, but the Romani get it with both barrels throughout.)
Of course, I have to temper my perception that the racism of the novel’s characters is anachronistic. The book was published in 1992, and that’s roughly when someone I thought of as a friend shocked me by casually and un-ironically deploying the N-bomb. And my hunger for a bit of balance inspired me to do a bit of reading about the Romani, and their persecution.
needs more demons just not quite for me, perhaps.