Friday, August 19, 2011


Disclosure up front: Barry Graham & I have been close friends for many years, since we both worked at the Phoenix New Times in the late ‘90s. We’ve collaborated on a couple of projects, edited each other’s freelance pieces for different newspapers, gone to scores if not hundreds of movies together, & talked on the phone with the stamina of teenage girls, if not always with an equal level of maturity.

Still, with as much objectivity as I can muster—& much as it pains me to feed the mad Scottish bastard’s ego—I must grant that Graham is probably the best writer of prose I’ve ever known well, & that some of the very best of said prose can be found in his novel The Wrong Thing, newly out from Switchblade.

Barry recites from & signs the tome Saturday at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, starting at 5 p.m.

Graham’s idea with The Wrong Thing was to put a human face on an archetypical figure, in this case the classic southwestern boogeyman: a murderous Mexican-American drug dealer known simply as The Kid. The Kid’s career is traced from his neglected childhood in a New Mexico barrio, through a string of gruesome murders & other crimes.

On the surface The Kid is likable & unassuming, even sweet—he loves his girlfriend & his cat, & reading & cooking. But whenever he’s confronted with any petty authority or crossed in the slightest way, he lapses into brutality with an almost slapstick haplessness, stumbling into homicide the way Jerry Lewis might stumble into a tray of desserts.

I don’t mean by this to suggest, by the way, that The Wrong Thing is black comedy. It’s horrific & sad, & Graham’s earnest tone insists that we take in the momentousness, both physical & moral, of every gory outrage. What keeps it from being depressing is the speed & exhilaration & straightforward beauty of the writing. Graham’s style—precise without fussiness, simple & conversational without forced chattiness—turns this tale from a case study into a tight, compact tragedy.

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