Monday, April 25, 2005

The Last Act by Barry Baldwin

The Last Act” by Barry Baldwin, Hardluck Stories, Spring 2005

A man named Harry walks into a bar just before closing to use the restroom and make a call. Myra, the bartender and only other person in the place, offers him a cup of coffee.

Harry needs a taxi, but Myra tells him that taxis won’t come to this neighborhood this time of night. She offers to give him a ride to a bar she frequents to wind down after her shift. That bar has a taxi stand nearby.

Myra invites Harry in for a drink. She tells him her history. She’s an aspiring actress. Her sister Fay was killed in a robbery of that bar she works in. She says she works there as a way to keep Fay alive in her mind a little longer.

Harry is a car thief, at least that night he was. He had boosted an expensive car that gave out just before he walked into Myra’s bar. She had him nailed. Myra spotted the car as she was driving away from her place of employment.

Myra has a plan. She wants to rob a bank and make a score big enough to allow her to move on from aspiring actress to working actress. She wants to be smart about it, and Harry is smart enough to know a good plan when he hears it.

Harry finds a couple of guys for muscle, and they pull their job. Afterwards Harry and Myra meet at another bar. Harry reveals that the two guys he hired are now sleeping with the fishes. What happens next is a big surprise for Harry.

This story has a good plot, and Mr. Baldwin fleshes it out well. Unfortunately that intangible voice didn’t feel right. It felt like Mr. Baldwin was going for hardboiled noir but couldn’t quite pull it off. His voice felt forced.

I like colorful language probably more than most people, but “Wariness danced its silent two-step between them” is just trying too hard. The same for the two opening sentences. Either one would have been enough. Both were too much.

Worst of all, there was no emotion, no feeling. Hardboiled noir has a hard surface that on a casual reading seems emotionless, but that surface conceals a turbulent undercurrent of raw feeling. Myra felt nothing for Fay or her murderer other than what her cultural tradition demanded. That balancing act between showing the emotionless mask and allowing the reader to feel what’s beneath is a tough thing to pull off.

In short, try again, Mr. Baldwin. You’re a good enough writer that you might pull it off with practice.