Friday, May 20, 2011

Re-Kindling Interest: Street Raised by Pearce Hansen

He pulled the straight shooter from his lips, torturing himself with anticipation as he watched a tiny tendril of crack smoke waver from the mouth end of the pipe. The scent of it excited him more than the sight of a naked woman as he watched the crack smoke dissipate into the air, a little piece of Heaven wasted. — from Street Raised

I believe the current e-book wave's greatest benefit is in how it allows books and authors that were neglected the first time around, another chance to get noticed. And I can't think of a single novel that deserves this second chance more than Pearce Hansen's Street Raised.

Originally released by PointBlank Press in 2006, it got terrific blurbs and subsequently great reviews. But it never seemed to find its audience. Now Hansen has released an expanded and improved version in electronic format. According to the author himself, the new edition of Street Raised is "a third longer than the original, with material based on several years of research to make the feral Bay Area of 1984 come fully alive as a character in and of itself."

What follows is my original review:

Few crime fiction writers have actually lived through the same events they put their characters through. For most, writing noir is an opportunity to experience illegal behaviors from a safe distance, things they would never dare to replicate because they don't have to. Pearce Hansen is the rare breed: he has run the same streets and struggled through the same precarious existence his characters do.  For Hansen, writing is a kind of catharsis: it helps keep the nightmares away.

From the bio included with Street Raised, we learn that Hansen was "functionally homeless at a young age," and that he did a lot of self-educating through reading a variety of books: "he counts Thucydides & Spillane, Dostoevski & H.P. Lovecraft, Dickens & Nietzsche among his dear dead friends."

Street Raised is his debut novel, but it is not the work of a beginner. Hansen has been honing craft in short-fiction circles (including the now-defunct Plots With Guns) for ten years, and it shows. The story of Speedy and the aftermath of his release from Pelican Bay State Prison (far too much happens for me to even attempt a summary) displays a sure hand that knows what a good story requires: relatable characters, detailed settings, a clearly defined arc, and a satisfying ending.

It is in the spaces between, though, where Hansen's experiences and innate knack for storytelling shine through: There is no distancing from these people; we get up close and personal with their ways of life. Street Raised is filled with situations that could only be described by one who has seen them happen up close.  That immediacy translates onto the page, resulting in at least one character who is thoroughly disturbing.

But make no mistake, Street Raised is not a memoir; that doesn't suit Hansen's needs here at all.  He simply brings the rawness, the grit, and the upfront humanity to a genre that has, over time, gotten far too glossy.  Hansen's unflinching (and completely engrossing) take will change how you feel about other crime writers.  Kudos to Hansen for writing what is without a doubt the most affecting crime novel of the year.

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