Somewhere out in the metro-west suburbs, a man named Dave Zeltserman is sitting in the parlor of his 10-year-old house, listening to “Shipping Up to Boston” while masturbating to Whitey Bulger’s FBI mug shot.
Recently, I came across this Boston Globe article, which details the premise of Zeltserman’s new crime novel, Pariah. The article starts thusly:
Kyle Nevin’s not the kind of guy you would want to cross. He’d as soon beat your face into a pulp for looking at him the wrong way as he would cadge a drink off you. Unless you’re a good-looking woman, of course, in which case he’d have other plans.
Oh, Mr. Zeltserman, please, do go on!
In his defense, I have not read the book. In my defense, it’s most likely made up of the sputum that would result if a Dennis Lehane novel came down with H1N1. Whenever I hear that some dude from Westwood or Norwell has written a book or screenplay about life in Southie, I become suspicious. That man (or woman, but mostly it’s men that want to glorify the vestiges of the Irish mob), is guilty until proven innocent.
The difference between the treatment that Zeltserman’s novel gives to the archetypal working-to-middle-class Boston neighborhood – read, “Southie” – and, say, how The Departed did it, is that the movie was sort of set outside of time. It was loosely based on the story of Whitey Bulger (whose real story is actually a little bit more bad-ass), but it didn’t seem to take place in any particular decade. Partly because it didn’t include any commentary on contemporary South Boston, The Departed was a great movie: it had intrigue, mystery, betrayal, and epic gun battles. Great combo. But Pariah, judging by the review, is loaded with the author’s analysis of Southie life.
The idea of the townie/yuppie tug-of-war, which the novel addresses with its steak/sushi dichotomy, has not only been done to shit but is also a drastic oversimplification. I suppose there’s some truth in the notion that Southie today is characterized by a sort of duality between locals and “newcomers,” but the fact is that most people fall somewhere in between. The danger of Zeltserman’s portrayal, and others like it, is that it reinforces the idea that you’re either a local or a yuppie, which divides the neighborhood. I understand the feeling of infringement that came in with the yuppies. To be honest, I’d be happier if Jones’s was still around and they never did over the Shamrock. And it’s true that some of these newcomers have no respect for the neighborhood, and maybe some of them do deserve a bottle to the head. But let’s make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, shall we?
What I mean to say, in conclusion, is this: Southie, like any place with as many people living in a similarly small square mileage, is complex. Unlike other places, though, Southie looms large in Boston culture and history, and recently has even staked its claim in our national popular culture. Perpetuating this stupid caricature of what the neighborhood is supposed to be like does nothing but erode the true character of the place.
That’s why your book sucks, Zeltserman. The first thing they tell you in writing class is “show, don’t tell.” The second is “write what you know.” I suggest you set your next book in Needham. Until such time arises, you’re on notice.
If you’re thinking about telling me all about how you think I’m a dick, read this first and do it there.