Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gritty reboot: flimflam edition

Book: Matchstick Men

Author: Eric Garcia

Published: 2002 (Villard)

Pages: 228

I can sum up this book in five words: gritty reboot of Paper Moon. That, my friends, makes a very enjoyable read.

Seriously, it’s a little eerie. Both books are about con men who are estranged fathers of young daughters who end up coming with them and show precocious knacks for helping with jobs. Even a couple of the cons are the same, most notably the one where the con man (or girl) goes to pay for something cheap with a twenty-dollar bill. The clerk gives back $19.50 or whatever in change, but just before the con man (or girl) gets out the door, they say, “Oh hey look, I do have the exact amount,” and give the clerk that in exchange for the twenty-dollar bill. If they keep the clerk chatting or flirting hard enough, the con nets the $19.50 in change the clerk doesn’t think to ask back.

It works stupidly well in both books.

I like both of the girls, too. They’re written as bright stubborn things who use their wills to get what they want done in matter-of-fact ways that betray fierce loyalties to their dads as the first grownups who’ve shown them any kind of respect.

The biggest differences between these books are the settings, the group dynamics, and how that affects the outcomes. In Matchstick Men, Roy has a partner he works with long before his daughter comes into the picture. This is important to the natural progression of the twist ending that, by the end of everything, seems inevitable.

I can’t get over how smooth that twist is. It’s the best I’ve read in many a book. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is. Go read. Or watch the movie. This is one time I’m comfortable with recommending both adaptations equally.

Same for Paper Moon, actually. So…bumping around through the Depression stealing cotton, or twitching around a modern city processing art forgeries? Colorful Southern expressions or flinty Yankee curses? Ryan O’Neil or Nicholas Cage? Both. ALL.

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