Galway’s most successful literary export

KEN BRUEN is one of the few Galway based writers whose books sell in large quantities worldwide. This fact on its own would lead some of the more tragic purists among us to view him with suspicion.

There are those who believe that any writer who sells more than a hundred copies of his or her book can only do so by signing a pact with Beelzebub and/or Dick Cheney. The true writer is too busy perfecting his or her art to bother him/herself with the grubby business of selling books, so the argument goes.

The first thing that should be said in Bruen’s defence is that it’s not his fault that people buy his books in such large numbers; the second is that this type of thinking is nothing more than old fashioned Irish begrudgery dressed up in slightly intellectual clothes.

There is nothing at all romantic about an author allowing his or her books to gather dust and mildew in a publisher’s warehouse or under his or her own bed. It does not make you a better writer.

I was delighted to hear that filming has started on the screen version Bruen’s novel London Boulevard; even more so to read that the director is Oscar winner William Monahan (screenwriter of The Departed ) and that the film will star Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley. If I had a glass, I would raise it to Bruen.

The paperback version of his 2008 novel, American Skin, is just out and is published by Brandon. It has been likened to William Burrough’s 1959 classic, Naked Lunch, which must rank as one of the oddest books ever written. It is no surprise then that, in Bruen’s hands, the American dreams of his characters quickly become nightmares populated by all that is worst.

As Bruen aficionados would expect, a crime is the engine driving American Skin’s plot. Steve-O Blake from Galway is on the run after a bank heist, hoping to disappear in the Arizona desert and re-emerge as a fully fledged American. Unfortunately for Steve-O, the only thing that runs smoothly in Bruen’s books is the road to hell. The plot jerks here and there. You never know what’s coming next.

Bruen introduces us to John A Stapleton, a dissident republican bank robber for whom “the Peace Talks were like the worst news”. He’s bad enough, but at least he’s a variety of politically obsessed sociopath we’re familiar enough with in Ireland.

More disturbing is Dade, who bears “more than a passing resemblance to Christopher Walken” and is obsessed with the music of Tammy Wynette. During a stint in jail “a black guy knocked out his [Dade’s] teeth”. Dade is “a leading light in a white supremacist gang” and his response is savage. He takes “the guy’s eyes out with a spoon”.

In a Bruen novel one never expects everything to turn out OK but in American Skin he really takes the reader into the dark. A great read. And the cover price won’t, dare I say it, break the bank.

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