3 April 2013

Harlan Ellison, Web of the City, 1958

Rumble was Ellison’s first novel which, after he was drafted and underwent Ranger training, he says was mostly written while sitting on the john with his typewriter on his knees. He drew on his experiences (call that ‘research’) with teenage gang culture in New York, and it’s quite apparent from just the well-written first chapter that Ellison had a way with both atmosphere and plotting: you immediately get on-side with Rusty Santoro, a teenage Puerto Rican street thug who wants to make good on the streets of Brooklyn, yet constantly gets dragged back into the gang and the gutter to settle one more score, and big scores they are too. How has the novel fared after more than fifty years? Now back under it’s original intended title Web of the City, it’s still very readable and maintains a believable level of authenticity, though with the higher tolerance for violence we have today it may now work better as a rather informative and cautionary Y/A novel than an adult read. The recent 2013 Hard Case Crime edition also comes with three of Ellison’s short stories from the same period that paint the same kind of picture; I have no great admiration for Ellison’s writing throughout his career (and I’ve read a great deal of it), but Web of the City doesn’t hurt his reputation as the enfant terrible of his era and still commands the customary grudging respect. As is so often the case.  PY


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