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End of the Roaring 20’s

Ted Korsmo Author Interview

Ted Korsmo Author Interview

Wayzata takes place in 1930’s suburban Minnesota, but the tale still carries all the trappings of a 1920’s era LA noir. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?

Erm…most L.A. noir stories actually take place during the ’30s, and my story is set in 1939, perhaps for the reason that this time period concerns the end of the so-called “roaring ’20s” and the eventual fallout from that decade (or so) of overindulgence and decadence. During this period, the Great Depression was still in full swing, war was imminent, most people had to scrounge to eke out a living, and crime was on the rise. Dirtbags and seedy establishments permeated society. I thought it might be interesting to set a story in a place insulated from most of that, so why not set this story in a remote, resort town town in the Midwest? It’s also helpful to narratively remove all coincidences, as, in such a provincial locale, everybody knows or at least has heard of everyone else; it wouldn’t be strange for people to run into one another on the street. Then I guess I have to divulge that I grew up near to Wayzata, spent time there, and was familiar with many of the locations, some of which I used in the novel.

I think that the story has roots in classic hard-boiled detective stories. Do you read books from that genre? What were some books that you think influenced Wayzata?

Indeed it does, and indeed I do. As a teenager I was a huge Coen brothers fan; Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing were just great, and I seem to remember seeing an interview with the Coens (who are from Minneapolis), talking about how the latter film sprung from reading their favorite author, Raymond Chandler. Fortunately for me, Chandler was not incredibly prolific, and I was able to devour all seven of his novels during my stint at college. Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain soon followed. These three are pretty well all you need, though there are certainly other excellent pulp writers out there. When I found out I had a knack for constructing similes, this genre seemed like a natural fit. Double Indemnity, the novel and the movie, was definitely an influence. I pay homage to it several times. The novel was written by Cain and the screenplay by Chandler. Coincidence?

Detective Carroll LaRue is an intriguing character. What were the driving ideals that drove the character’s development throughout the story?

Thanks for saying so. LaRue, like most private dicks portrayed in this type of novel, is a kind of highly moralistic individual who has to drink to cope with reality. He, like Marlowe, like Spade, is a kind of non-judgmental angel, slumming it by choice, yet exhausted and saddened by the depravity that surrounds him. (SPOILER ALERT) In Wayzata, when LaRue allows himself to be led astray by a pretty face, it turns out to be his undoing, and the tragedy of the story is that he is, for the most part, aware of it, but does it anyway.

I find a problem with well-written stories is that I always want there to be another book to keep the story going. Is there a second book planned?

At the moment, no. Since so much noir does tend to carry on with a character appearing and reappearing throughout several novels, I probably should have thought ahead. I have toyed with a notion of a prequel, a story in which LaRue still works in Los Angeles and how he comes to leave that place. He alludes to it in Wayzata. There’s probably something there, but, for the nonce, I am chosen instead to work on a couple collections of short stories and a novella.

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Wayzata

Wayzata3 StarsIn Ted Korsmo’s Wayzata the author reaches way back into literary Americana to dust off an old fedora. While the book takes place in the titular Minnesotan suburb, the tale carries all the trappings of a 1920’s era hardboiled LA noir. The protagonist, a dour, serious-drinking gumshoe, is even named Carroll – a clear nod to Carroll John Daly, the founding father of the genre. Wayzata’s pages rumble from beginning to end like a Packard 8 overflowing with smoke, booze, hard luck women, philandering eggs, and quirky ne’er-do-wells.

Korsmo respects the genre, the material, and the framework. He attends all the logic and sensibilities of Carroll LaRue and his contemporaries as best a modern writer can. For those who have a fond attachment to hard boiled detective stories, there is a great deal to love in Wayzata. Korsmo distinguishes his novella by placing it, not in L.A. or New York or Chicago, but in suburban Minnesota, and this offers up whiffs of bucolic charm that are atypical for a noir. Subsequently, the author plays a deft hand with comic relief. Just as the correctly cynical and self-destructive protagonist threatens to swamp the reader, Korsmo careens him right into an oddball local, usually, to amusing effect.

I wouldn’t say this is an attempt at resurrecting a genre, because hard boiled detectives have never truly gone away. Generously, one could say this book is more of a reminder.  At it’s best, Wayzata is a new recruit into a club that has fallen somewhere between forgotten legend and simply esoteric. Inherently there are problems with a new entry into such a well stocked category, and they are twofold. Firstly, there is absolutely no dearth of hardboiled detective material – some pieces, in fact, are Iconic American literature – so in 2016 it’s hard to justify a new novella as much more than a nostalgic sandbox. Secondly, the hard boiled detective novel, even as subject of periodic revivals, was at it’s best during the era depicted. The content was meant to be de rigueur. Wayzata suffers from this disconnect because the actual detecting gets short shrift as Korsmo pours most of his creative energy into rebuilding the verisimilitude of a world and a character set that are completely alien to modern readers. Much more effort is expended selling the setting, jargon, and early modern sensibilities than is put toward mystery or suspense. The narrative plot of Wayzata is frequently waylaid by paragraphs of hard-boiling.

Wayzata earns a three-star rating, because when Korsmo is at his best, the story delivers some familiarity, some freshness, some humor, and a bit of suspense, but there is a boundary between an authentic aesthetic and a tableau of that same aesthetic. At points Wayzata is an enjoyable read that flows well and finds rhythm within itself. At other points it is very hard to ignore the performance.

Pages: 186 | ASIN: B00MBOYRVQ

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