Red Giant Books has republished Mike DeCapite's first novel Through The Windshield. The book was first published in 1998 after a 13 year gestation period. Readers follow a year in the life of a down and out cab driver called Danny who, with his friend Fast Eddie, is being sucked dry by low paid jobs, shallow relationships, and debts accrued from a deep investment in gambling culture.
From page one, it is obvious DeCapite can write. The book is an unflinching, unromantic account of lives built to lose. Drawing on beat influences, Through The Windshield mixes episodes and shaggy dog tales from Danny and Eddie's life with a dense, terse poetry. DeCapite is intent on creating a vibe. He hits a groove that reflects the rhythms of a corroding, forgotten city.
Through The Windshieldis ripe for reappraisal due to its relevancy to contemporary urban America. DeCapite reflects a systemic poverty which seeps into the minds and actions of his characters. Danny and Eddie feel drawn from life and it is no stretch to believe they live in thousands of men and women in Cleveland, Detroit, or any Rust Belt city today.
The author seesaws between pathos and disgust for his characters. Danny and Eddie live in a world where anger is not directed outside to bankers or politicians. Instead, DeCapite depicts how it's dog eat dog at the bottom of the heap for characters who bump from one set of hard times to another, swindling and borrowing from each other as they go.
The portrait of Eddie in many ways dominates the novel. Fast Eddie names himself after Paul Newman but is a slob of a gambling addict. He can entertain with his expertise in telling expletive filled, bawdy stories. In some ways, he draws the reader in with a naivety that doesn't really pay attention to the consequences of his actions. However, he is also destructive of himself and others, like a Barney Gumbel with a restraining order, capable of disturbing levels of harassment and identity theft.
DeCapite's work is contemporary and pulsing with verve and nuance but Through The Windshield is punctured by its structure. In describing a year in the life of Danny, DeCapite has written a plotless novel. As someone who grew up in the 1990s, I have a great deal of sympathy for the aims and intentions of plotless stories. There is also a legitimate argument to say that DeCapite adds to the veracity of the novel by refusing to embroil Danny and Eddie in some kind of caper.
However, Through The Windshield is nearly 500 pages long and DeCapite does not achieve anything in the last 300 pages that he has not already done in the first 200. A ruthless editor could have turned the raw materials of this book into what it is being marketed as, a lost classic. As it stands though, Through The Windshield is bloated. By the end, the density of the poetry has started to congeal through repetition and it works against the book.
It seems that the reprint is targeted towards those who already have an awareness and appreciation of DeCapite's obvious talents. I would expect they would find much to enjoy from the book again. For a new reader like myself though, it constantly has to be borne in mind that Through The Windshield is a first novel. It's good, but it's not the finished package. It is the work of a promising rookie, swinging for the fences, who hits a fly ball to the warning track; leaving the likes of Danny and Eddie to rip their betting slips and curse their luck. (June 2014)
Purchase Through The WindshieldHERE.
Reviewer bio: Simon Travers published his first collection of poems, entitled 'Anatomy', in November 2013. It is available from http://stackhousejones.com/