David Cronenberg (or David Lynch) and Junichiro Tanizaki. Spike Lee and Charles Mingus. Carroll Ballard and John Steinbeck. After three pairings like that, the next one should be obvious.
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Afterburn, by Colin Harrison.
Now that Quentin Tarantino’s done his men-on-a-wartime-mission-movie (Inglourious Basterds, out later this month) and his kung-fu-revenge-movie (Kill Bill) and his grindhouse-tribute-movie (Death Proof), maybe he’d like to take a crack at another heist-gone-wrong movie (or maybe a Mafia movie), this one with an A-list critical pedigree and a much wider focus: Colin Harrison’s 2000 thriller, Afterburn.
I certainly wouldn’t want anybody else casting the role of Christina Welles, an Ivy League dropout and math whiz doing time for her part in a Mafia-run truck theft ring. Paroled suspiciously early, Christina is trying to keep clear of mob boss Tony Verducci (who suspects her of cheating him out of several million dollars) and ex-lover Ricky Bocca (who feels guilty for her arrest and incarceration) when she runs into Charlie Ravich, a multimillionaire and former Vietnam POW who wants to father a child in order to keep the family line going.
Her parole had been so far off that she hadn’t allowed herself to think about what it would be like to live in Manhattan again. But now, after only a few hours, all kinds of things crowded her mind. She’d need money, that was certain. She had just over three hundred dollars in her prison account, and if she could somehow live on that for a couple of weeks, she’d be okay. She’d get a job and rent a room downtown, near First or Second Avenue. Start all over. No flashy moves. Be careful what she said to people. You could live on almost nothing if you had to. You spent every dollar carefully, that’s all. She wanted to walk along the streets, look in the store windows. She’d buy a small radio and lie on her bed and listen to WCBS-FM, the oldies station. She’d read magazines in the bookstore. She missed all the magazines, even the trashy ones. She’d go to the movies, sink into one of those seats with a Coke and some popcorn. She wanted to see a Jack Nicholson movie. Anything he was in. Yes. She wold take a bath, her first in four years. Watch the water go down the drain and fill it up again, hot as she could stand it. She’d watch the beautiful little babies in the park and think, Where has the time gone? She would try to find the next version of herself.
Harrison, like Tarantino, is incapable of self-editing. Long stretches of Afterburn read like what we old newspaper hands used to call a notebook-dump: instead of using his impressive research to tell the story, choosing the most pertinent details, Harrison packs the narrative with every scrap of information he managed to find. The novel tops four hundred pages but could have worked better and faster at three hundred.
But despite the longueurs, Afterburn works like gangbusters, and Harrison blends guilt, regret, sex, and high-finance with some of the most outrageous violence I’ve ever read, the last delivered by Verducci’s “go-to guy,” Morris, a former paramedic who puts his knowledge of the human body to some appalling uses. Tarantino may even want to play him, if only for the climax, in which a man must conduct an international business transaction under local anesthetic while Morris surgically dismantles the steel cage holding his spine together.
If Tarantino isn’t answering his phone, have my people call Steven Soderbergh’s people. This movie needs to get made, like, yesterday.