Sunday, April 15, 2012
26. Death Wish by Brian Garfield
However, now that I'm older and harder (and a fan and student of publications like Cinema Sewer), I have recently been curious about actually watching the Death Wish series (or at least the first one) and since I have discovered Brian Garfield and learned that he was a poker buddy of Donald Westlake, I definitely wanted to read the novel.
The book is very different than the movie, I suspect, in tone and theme. This is not a revenge fantasy. Death Wish the novel is an exploration of the mind of an urban liberal when it is pushed to a breaking point due to a crisis that conflicts with everything it believed in. There is no gratuitous satisfaction or cathartic revenge in the protagonist's killings. The attack on his wife and daughter takes place offscreen (and is in some ways that much more disturbing and horrific for all the question marks surrounding it). Most of the book is concerned with his state of mind and the thought process that leads him to his vigilante actions. The climax of the book may be Paul Benjamin reading an interview with a psychiatrist in New York magazine about the vigilante killings, where the psychiatrist quite accurately conjectures who the vigilante is and what may be driving him.
I learned that Garfield wrote a sequel called Death Sentence, which was his response to the movie and the reaction it got. Ironically, that got made into a movie recently starring Kevin Bacon that was supposed to be quite bad. Don't know about its position on vigilantism, but I guess I may have to check it out as well. Pulp serenade has a good post about Death Wish and Garfield's reasons for writing it.
What I found most compelling about Death Wish was the way New York City is portrayed. I have friends who grew up there back in those dark days and they did say it was rough, but this book makes it seem almost like a dark apocalyptic future where enclaves (or ghettoes as Paul Benjamin bitterly compares them to at one point) of upper middle class people huddle together, surrounded by dark streets full of junkies and killers. It's depressing, especially coming after the random and senseless attack on Paul's family. It sort of gets to you as a reader.
It's a historically important book and a good read. Check it out.