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Citizen Vince: A Novel Paperback – August 15, 2006
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Jess Walter, who steps back in history for his third novel, brings back an "utterly inventive" tale of crime and politics (Washington Post). Walter, whose previous books include Land of the Blind and a non-fiction account of the Ruby Ridge massacre, Every Knee Shall Bow, seems to have found his stride as a novelist. Critics praise the authors ability to straddleor shatterthe conceits of the mystery novel, while offering a sincere, at times hilarious, rumination on the challenges of citizenship and the price of freedom. Except for the Seattle Timess vote against the stream of consciousness chapters that delve into Reagan and Carters minds, the pundits all agree: Citizen Vince is the real deal.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
It's October 1980, and laid-back loner Vince Camden never misses a morning making maple bars at the doughnut shop he manages in Spokane, Washington. And he rarely misses a night relieving locals of their bankrolls at an after-hours poker game, selling his hooker pals pot at cost, and running a lucrative credit-card theft ring. Vince has landed in eastern Washington via the witness-protection plan, and he is starting to like the simple pleasures, including receiving his first voter-registration card. So even when a hit man, a local cop, and Mob-boss-in-waiting John Gotti get Vince in their crosshairs, he keeps trying to figure out if he should pull the lever for Reagan or Carter. This tale of unlikely redemption works because of Walter's virtuoso command of character and dialogue--along with a wicked second-act twist. The novel is also a gritty love letter to Spokane and all the other second-tier cities where residents don't realize how good they've got it, and with its Capara-like spirit, it serves as a surprisingly satisfying antidote to the avalanche of cynical chatter emanating from this year's political campaigns and commentators. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The main character, Vince Camden, finds himself transplanted from New York to Spokane, WA as a former low level NY crook in the federal witness protection program. Old habits die hard, so once settled in Spokane as a newly trained baker through the community college program, Vince doubles as a donut maker by day and a credit card crook by night. Vince is an extremely likable guy - cool, smart, introspective, funny, and even sensitive. The way I describe it, it might not add up. But Walter makes it happen in a very realistic way.
The story of Vince's new life gets compacted quickly as his Spokane based racket begins to go sideways, and a mobster from NY shows up on the scene threatening Vince's livelihood and life. Walter weaves in a little bit of romance, lots of vivid and memorable characters, and impressive dry witted humor. There are points where you will laugh out loud. Jess also overlays the storyline with what is happening on the national scene at time time - the Iranian hostage crisis and the Carter/Reagan presidential election. You can make as much as you want from is parallel plot line, but for me the nation in a crisis and the need for strong, inspiring leader to restore things to a better place stood out. Vince faced his own "do the right thing" crossroad, and the book's outcome is telling in that area. I think it all worked in an enjoyable, crafty way.
If you are uncomfortable with an F-bomb laden narrative, you might want to skip this one. This is a book about mobsters - it would be hard to have it any other way.
Great, great read. Jess Walter is the real deal.
He thinks of his enemy as the shadow
That he himself casts."
---Tao Te Ching
This inscription provides a clue to the main theme of 'Citizen Vince'. As the quote is on the first page of the book, I paid particular attention to the 1980 Presidential contest between Jimmie Carter and Ronald Reagan which fascinates Vince Camden, the thief who is our 'hero'. Having been convicted of a felony as a younger man than he is now, which is currently age 36, he lost the right to vote a decade ago. In other words, he no longer had a voice in choosing the direction of the body of the nation. Losing the right of having a choice devastated Vince, but not so that he noticed. Instead, it was like a backburner fire eating at his heart. It manifested instead in an underlying depression, as well as a shocked horror in discovering that Charles Dickens, the famous English author, had written two endings to the book, 'Great Expectations'. This was such an unpleasant fact of history to him, Vince could no longer finish any book he started reading. Instead, his literary explorations were only a continuous series of beginnings with no endings, stuck, repeating himself, never pushing through to the conclusion. He had lost his great expectations.
Instead he felt a strong compulsion to follow the Presidential election. Jimmie Carter was trying to keep the job, but unfortunately he did not seem to be attractive to the voters. He was a man of decency and honesty, beyond corruption, self-sacrificing. A religious man, Carter tried to live and lead as he believed Jesus would have approved, using round-table discussions to find solutions, including all combatants and interests in order to work out a mutual agreement. The people turned away from Carter and adored Ronald Reagan. Reagan represented a return to values of the past, a tougher and meaner America. Instead of the inclusive policies of Carter which promised the equality of compromise, the people were choosing exclusivity, Us against Them, ruling through divisiveness and the power to take what one wants through whoever is strongest. Reagan promised to build up the military in order to resolve issues around the world and in our country through force and violence, using unilateral self-serving and imposed solutions, promising to save face first, grab the goodies from a position of power second, and force the losers to accept their loss third.
Reagan's policies were not much different than that of the New York mafia, actually. No wonder Vince found himself being drawn to the 1980 election current in the time taking place in the book.
Vince, or Marty Hagen, his real name, had learned that due to his snitching on certain mafia figures in New York City, which had earned him a new life in Spokane, Washington as a baker of donuts from his being accepted into the federal Witness Relocation Program, he had been restored to his rights as a citizen of America, including the power of choosing what direction he felt should be taken in the election. Unfortunately, Vince had already fallen back into repeating his own past, and he is once again gambling, stealing credit card numbers in order to sell them to other criminals, and otherwise flirting with crime. He had no idea if he was going to vote, much less any idea of who he would support, but he couldn't stop watching the race between Carter and Reagan. He still is stunned that he will be able to vote at all.
Ray Sticks, a mafia man who has no conscience and loves to torture and kill, has arrived in Spokane from New York City. He is a man on a mission, and it seems to be about Vince. Ray quickly discovers how Vince is stealing credit card numbers and he makes plans to infiltrate Vince's racket. Ray may have other plans for Vince as well, since Ray's occupation in New York was that of murdering people, especially women and children that other mafia killers refused to do.
Vince, having had the choice, framing it perhaps clumsily in the symbolism of his straight non-criminal life, of the solid nutrition of the baked and completed donut itself or the emptiness of the hole, has unfortunately put himself in the hole. Has he thrown away his ability to choose the direction of his life before he even grasped the opportunity? Worse, he might be destroying the lives of people, weaker than himself, who now depend on his choices. He has become involved with a prostitute, Beth, who is actually working at changing her life with far less resources than Vince. She is taking classes at the local community college to get her real estate license. She has almost nothing supporting her in this effort, but still she is trying. She also is hopeful that Vince will like her enough to become her boyfriend, but he only has eyes for a far more flashier, educated woman, Kelly, who is working on the campaign of a local politician running for a legislative seat. However, Kelly is lacking a solid foundation of values, as she is pursuing a relationship with a married man. Vince is drawn to choices of empty vacuity over those choices which could lead to solid fulfillment again and again. He excuses himself by calling it fate when he thinks about it, having enjoyed reading books with what he assumed were certain and unalterable endings - until he learned that authors could imagine other endings.
But he's working on it.
This is a fantastic literary read disguised as a crime novel. I highly recommend it to mystery readers with a taste for 'quality' literature as well.
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