If you read one book this week, make it S.E. Hinton’s Rumble Fish.
I was directed to the young adults’/ big kids’ section of Waterstones for a copy of Rumble Fish, Hinton’s third published novel. Curious, as the film adaption – starring Matt Dillon as Rusty James in a perfectly-cast and realised Coppola rendition, with Mickey Rourke at his coolest ever as the Motorcycle Boy – is rated 18.
The short novel is the story of Rusty James, local street tough trying to live up to his brother, the Motorcycle Boy’s, reputation. Disillusioned as to where his future lies, parent-less with only his wayward older brother to look out for him, other than his alcoholic father, each act of violence and crime presses Rusty James (he prefers people using his full name) closer to thinking their might be something more to life. We’re not about spoilers here, but as in The Outsiders, the story is driven with a Holden Caulfield-type, biased first-person narrative, making Rusty James an instant friend, and the world around him immediately relatable.
Readers: revel in Hinton’s seamless telling of a couple days in the life of this testosterone-driven, false god-following handful of a character, and wonder how, in the space of a hundred pages, all of his problems have become yours. Writers: it looked so simple didn’t it? Dialogue-driven and at times narrated with barely any exposition as any good story told from a bar stool or over a coffee often is. The only detail of concern in Rusty James’ narrative is in wondering how his partially deaf, colour-blind and god-like brother sees and hears the world. (It’s like a black and white TV with the sound turned down.) It is the kind of masterful seemingly effortless storytelling that is difficult to emulate and easy to compare to children’s literature – hence why I found this novel of knife fights and girl troubles oddly near the picture books.
What’s it like? Fans of Hinton can expect perfection, driven by the kind of compassion and punk rock angst found on a Ramones album. What will you take from it? Well, you’ll be Rusty James for the day, thoughtful and vulnerable but buried beneath tuff braun and reputation, at times feeling like trying to punch your way out of a doorless room, at other times fragile when faced with the vaster horizons of the world outside the one you know.
To compare, as we must, fans of Sol Yurick’s The Warriors, a stripped down Hubert Selby Jr, or even the musicals Grease and West Side story will find themselves in good company here.