Dillinger in Hollywood: New and Selected Short Stories by John Sayles (Nation Books), 256 pages, $19.50 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
In eight men out, his film about the 1919 Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series, John Sayles cast himself as Ring Lardner, the sports and short story writer. An interesting choice considering that Dillinger In Hollywood, Sayles's collection of short stories from the last 25 years, shows a certain kinship with Lardner's work.
If nothing in Dillinger In Hollywood has the ice-pick focus of Lardner's Haircut, both writers have a reporter's ear and are inclined to stay well behind the scenes. Sayles once said that he could remember about two pages of overheard dialogue, a gift that serves him well. He writes about people waiting tables, nursing home attendants and Floridians looking for treasure like someone who listens hard while sitting in diners and on buses, notebook held low and pencil flying.
The stories here are straightforward observational character studies - Sayles has little use for irony - and worth reading for their uncanny evocation of the American voice. Fans of Sayles's films will be especially interested in the 2000 story Casa De Los Babys, which contains about 80 per cent of the film, down to the dialogue.
Sayles's fictional approach is not unlike his cinematic technique, which is a good thing. He gives us real people in real places, without ever sinking into the quiet despair of Raymond Carverish minimalism. A story like Peeling, about women working in a restaurant, could easily be part of Sunshine State.
Once, writers worried about "going Hollywood." Sayles remains the director most in danger of going University of Iowa writers workshop.
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