Remembering Benjamin Cavell/ Or Burying the Hed

20 Jan


Previously, you could not number me among the legions of admirers of the AMC series Breaking Bad or lead actor Bryan Cranston— a judgment I have now altered due to his portrayal of black-listed screen writer Dalton Trumbo in the eponymously entitled film, Trumbo. Cranston’s assumption of various key roles (creator, producer, director, actor) has edged the applause meter even higher with the new Amazon (10 episodes) series, Sneaky Pete , featuring a cast including three of my favorite actors, the (really) amazing Margret Martingale , quicksilver Marin Ireland (see her in 28 Rooms) and the always dependable Peter Gerety— which would have been a Royal straight flush if Melissa Leo and Ving Rhames were included in the ensemble

Giovanni Ribisi plays the lead, Marius Josipovic aka Peter Murphy as a pathological confidence man, a profession  is rife wth comedic possibilities as well as uncommon narratives ( except to the practitioners, who have a glossary of terms attached to their heir craft’S various grifts and cons)

Marius , released from a 3-year stint, is informed by his brother that thug who triggered the events leading to Marius’s incarceration is looking for him. Thus his initial dodge finds places him in Bridgeport Connecticut insinuating himself into a family whose failing business is a bail bonds agency. Havoc and merriment result with a minimal body count.

The second leg of an entertaining series after skilled thespians is, of course, the writing.And as it turned out ,in scanning the credits t0 discover who to credit for the good story telling, I  came across Ben Cavell’s, credits for his various contributions. Now followers of another well-regarded crime series, Justified, might recognize the name as  he had a hand in that shows 6 successful seasons.



However I am familiar with through the unlikely;y arena of literature— having ‘conversated’ with him in 2003 upon the occasion of his short story collection,Rumble, Young Man, Rumble. You literary types may be interested in reading that chat, which is accessible at Identity Theory.* Here’s a sampling—

BC: When I finish a story that is going to work it looks pretty finished. I really revise as I go along. Some guys just spout for a while and then have twenty-seven different drafts. But I don’t. It takes me a long time to make any progress, but I really keep going back over sentences and paragraphs and massage them as I am going. When you get to the end of something you both have a better sense of how the whole should look and also I have heard a couple of people say this and I really think it’s true, even though it’s a short story. You are a better writer at the end. Anything that you write, that works, makes you a better writer, and therefore you are a better writer at the end of a twenty-page story than you were at the beginning. Maybe it’s barely perceptible, but a matter of smaller degree. But it matters. Schumann or someone said, “If I don’t practice one day, I know. If I don’t practice two days, my friends know. If I don’t practice three days everybody knows.” Maybe someone who wasn’t me wouldn’t be able to see the difference just in a short story, but I can. It bothers me if the beginning is not up to the end. So in order to really finish a story I have to go back and make sure.

RB: So you dropped a story that you felt was repetitive?

BC: Richard Price said that the stories are sometimes manic. I think that’s not a bad description. I think there is a balance between the manic stories and stories like “The Ropes.”

RB: I only see one of them as something I would call ‘manic’, which was the first one (“Balls, Balls, Balls”). The others didn’t seem to be feverish and hyperactive.

BC: “Evolution” may be to some extent.

RB: Is that the one about the guys who are going to kill the girl friend’s father?

BC: Yeah.

RB: That’s haunted by an inherited insanity. Anyway I think of “manic” as describing tempo, not a mind set.

BC: I guess I am using it to mean both. Maybe that word isn’t as good as I think it is. Somehow it was important to me because some of these stories are restrained—it’s hard to say what the difference is. If we use “Balls, Balls, Balls” and “Evolution” as one kind of story and “The Ropes” as another, I wanted there to be a balance between those kinds of stories. And so the last story [that was not included] made the collection veer too much toward “Balls, Balls, Balls.” I don’t want to be that kind of writer.

RB: You’re clear on how you think the reader is going to react to the stories. Your characterization of the stories may be different than what readers get out of them. Having said that, I understand you to be saying you labored over the stories, their sequence and their classification.

BC: Yeah, I meant for this collection to be read in sequence. I know people jump around in a short story collection, and I do it too. I want the stories to exist on their own…

RB: Perhaps you should have included a set of instructions….


Okay, so I buried the led…



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