The Long Take


One of my favorites this year so far. The Long Take (2018; also known as A Way to Lose More Slowly) is a novel in narrative poetry form by Scottish poet Robin Robertson. Set in New York, Chicago, and LA in the 1940s after the war, the story follows protagonist Walker, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and horrific memories of carnage in the 1944 invasion of Normandy. He's from Nova Scotia but won't go back. And he wanders like a beatnik, westward to California.


"Cities are a kind of war," he thinks, in the way they're sometimes "far away then, quickly, very close." The themes of cities, mainly LA, and the destruction of war form much of the narrative's latticework, and the story-line swings us between rich, striking descriptions of both.


Walker takes on various jobs, a reporter for one, writing articles about the homeless who get swept aside to make room for urban development. Other characters include Pike (another reporter) and Glassface, whose face was torched by Hitler Youth.


There's a dreamy noir-ishness in Robertson's writing in the The Long Take, and some parts feel like T.S. Eliot (particularly The Waste Land). It's well researched and the dialogue stands out for its economy and gritty authenticity. I enjoy film noir from the 40s/50s, so I liked the many references to the genre and its actors, directors, and filming locations, as well as such pictures as Naked City, Out of the Past, The Big Combo, and Kiss Me Deadly. The combination of verse and prose gives the work multiple rhythms that flow and intertwine, leaving sharp images, some contrasting, some melding, and the desire to read it a second time.

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