The Long-Legged Fly by James Sallis

Summary:

Through four vignettes, each occurring in a different decade and a different era of his life, Private Investigator Lew Griffin searches New Orleans for meaning, connection, understanding, and lost souls. The Long-Legged Fly contains the complexity of an ancient myth, the depth of a philosophical treatise, the heart of the best of American literature, and the immediacy of top Noir.

Each vignette serves as its own variation on the themes in the life of Lew Griffin, who:

“Like a long-legged fly upon the stream

His mind moves upon silence”

-W. B. Yeats, “Long-Legged Fly”

Analysis:

This extraordinary novel contains plenty of mystery, but the complex themes at the heart of the novel, questions of identity, race, purpose, and art, drive the story forward more than the mysteries of each case Lew Griffin reluctantly accepts.

As Griffin struggles with alcohol, relationships, and his own past, he sees his misery reflected in the world around him. He struggles with the pain, violence, poverty, and crime of New Orleans, and he embodies those struggles. At times, he finds resolution through a case or through the act of writing, and at times the struggle for resolution remains suspended in the fullness of narrative, a fullness developed through language rather than action, meditation rather than closure.

James Sallis is the W. G. Sebald of crime writing.

His work functions more as a meditation than a resolution, and to read his work is to ponder the meaning of the issues that drives the story, issues that are never neat, rarely complete, and far grander than any one novel.

Biography:

James Sallis is a writer, poet, critic, musicologist, musician, translator, and educator, among other things. The Long-Legged Fly is the first in the Lew Griffin series of novels set in New Orleans. His 2005 novel Drive was adapted into a 2011 film of the same name.

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