Richard Condon is my favorite writer right now. I just put down a fourth book by him (An Infinity of Mirrors) and started a fifth (Winter Kills) and I am convinced - was convinced after The Manchurian Candidate, Prizzi's Honor and Arigato - that I want to read every word this man ever wrote.
So my iniative into "the Condon Cult" is well underway. And I'm actually a little thrilled to be in on the conspiracy, to be a fan of a writer with a "cult following" - you always hear about these things but rarely see or remember them - one whose books are largely out of print but are remembered by dusty dealers in used book stores.
But as a new convert, a zealot perhaps, I have to say I'm uncomfortable with the way Condon is largely remembered and portrayed.
He seems to be remembered mostly for The Manchurian Candidate - a fine book, to be sure, but one that blurs in the memory of most with the movie (admittedly, a good movie).
If he is remembered after that it is for Prizzi's Honor - again with a movie, a movie I have no intention of ever seeing because I want its characters firmly in my mind the way they are, not as John Huston, no matter how much I admire that filmmaker, presented them.
Beyond that Condon seems to be remembered as a writer that's difficult to categorize but one that mostly produced thrillers with political and satirical elements. The adjectives typically attached to him are "paranoid" and sometimes "frenetic." His sometimes long, cataloguing sentences are often described. Sadly, there is also a cloud of plagiarism hanging over him in one notable instance.
Granted, I am only four and a quarter books into his 20-some piece body of work, but I am uncomfortable with that general portrait of this man, who I think is a master of prose, who creates amazing characters with exceptional clarity, writes beautifully about men and women, plots and paces marvellously, and puts the most astoundingly perfect dialogue into the mouths of his characters.
In short, I feel Condon is being remembered as gimmicky, like Hunter S. Thompson or Thomas Pynchon, when he is an absolute master of writing, an artist that elevated the novel of entertainment to artistic summits. He is a jewel worthy of his following - a following that seems to be dying out.
Here are a series of disappointing interviews with Condon and Don Swaim (I'm not sure who that is). In them, they discuss the places Condon lived, food, the fact he composed on the then-new word processor - anything but the fucking quality of his writing and the treasures that are his books. I want to shake my computer and scream. Were I to have a couple hours with Condon I would ask him how he came up with certain ideas, how he brought to life certain characters, how he tunes his characters' dialogue, and what kind of sophisticated, worldly man is able to dream up such assassins, reprobates, perverts, Nazis, gamblers, murderes, officers, gentlemen, heroes, schemers. I would ask him his opinions on the world, I would ask him of his own substance.
I would ask him who the writers are that inspire him and upon which he models his own work - in short, I would not be asking him whether there were any good fucking restaurants in Dallas.
Richard Condon is my favorite writer right now and I will carry his torch held high til he is better illuminated in my small corners of the world.