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Citizen Vince - Jess Walter ”Voting is for assholes, like paying taxes. Or having a job. And guns--big fuckin’ deal. You can always find a gun on the street. Any felon can buy a gun. But just try to vote in jail. You can’t do it. It’s funny, you think about it, the only thing we can’t do...is something we don’t even care about doing.”

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Carter...Anderson...Reagan...more choices than normal.

But the thing of it is it is 8 days away from the pivotal presidential election in 1980 and Vince Camden does care. For the first time in his life, due to some unfortunate youthful indiscretions that continue to be indiscretions for him as an adult have kept him from ever being able to vote. Now that he can finally vote he is almost crippled by indecision. Reagan, Carter, Anderson parade through his brain with no separation. They are names not people, but he desperately wants to make the right the decision, after all, chances are it will be the only opportunity he ever gets to vote.

Vince is not a bad man, but nor is he a good man. With his new life in Spokane his routine is pretty simple. He makes donuts in the early hours of the morning; he then sleeps; when he wakes up he goes plays cards. He has a credit card racket going on the side, one of those youthful indiscretions I mentioned earlier that he just can’t seem to let go of. There are several great scenes around playing cards in the book. This was one of my favorites because I love nonsensical sports talk almost as much as I like talking about books.

”At this table, there is no talk of work or parole or balls being busted. They talk about sports betting, how much they lost on this game or how that lousy spread was. If you didn’t know better, you might think this was a roomful of profane football coaches. They like the Packers with points against Pittsburgh (“My dick is smarter than Terry Bradshaw). Tampa over the hapless Giants (Fuckin’ Giants couldn’t score in Times Square), and the Jets plus nine at New England (My dick throws a better spiral than Steve Grogan).”

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The much maligned Steve Grogan

Vince is a reader always a plus with me. Unfortunately the book Great Expectations betrayed him and changed his reading habits for life.

”He’d read Great Expectations at Rikers and had loved it--this story of a criminal secretly sponsoring some poor kid’s life--until the jail librarian pointed out that Dickens had written two endings. When he found the original ending VInce felt betrayed by the entire idea of narrative fiction. A book, like a life, should have only one ending. Either the adult Pip and Estella walk off holding hands, or they don’t. For him, the end of that book rendered it entirely moot, five hundred pages of moot. Every novel moot.
So he only reads the beginnings now.”

He starts to change his reading habits even more when the lovely Kelly starts coming into the donut shop. She makes a point of noticing what he is reading and so with the help of a bookselling croan he starts to try to read things that will impress a twenty-six year old woman.

”Kelly is wearing a red sweater and a sheer black skirt, and when she crosses her legs Vince can see the muscles in her thighs through the material and he wonders if anyone hears the slight whimper he makes.”

Yes... a bit of inspired lust that had me laughing out loud. I too have whimpered from time to time when confronted with the magnificent beauty of a seemingly unattainable goddess.

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Vince had a Sharon Stone moment

Mixed within the humorous and at times inept life of Vince Camden, Jess Walter squeezes in these simply brilliant passages about Reagan and Carter that took me right back to 1980. It actually left me a little dizzy with memories as they all come flooding back. I was too young to vote in 1980, but it was the first election that started me on the road to being a presidential political junky.

”Among certain groups--political operatives, criminal gangs, middle school girls--every breath is a conspiracy. And so it should come as no surprise that Reagan’s people have gotten their hands on Jimmy Carter’s debate notes and used them to coach their candidate. Or that Reagan may be working behind the scenes to make sure the hostages aren’t released until after the election.”

I’m not going to talk about the Iran Contra affair...I’m not...I refuse to pick that scab.

There is a great moment in the book with Carter that again made me remember that we as a nation may not have given him a fair shake.

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Jimmy Carter

”He wonders sometimes, Who are these people? Who are these people who can believe that a man is good and smart and honest and charitable...and still not like him? What kind of a people are these? He still hears the pollster speaking directly at him for one of the few times: Look, the problem is this: You remind them of their weaknesses.

Sometimes, he feels as though he’s sitting on the other side, with the men in the room, looking at the buffoon behind that desk like a puzzle that can be solved, like a product that can be sold better, and that’s usually when he excuses himself to go to the bathroom...to look for his own face in the mirror, to see if he’s still there.”

When a killer from his past shows up and pushes Vince on the run. He is making tough decisions and not sleeping. ”The lack of sleep shouldn’t be so powerful. It has no quality of its own; it is simply a hole, an absence, like the lack of sex or water or any other hole” He goes back to New York and finds that instead of uncomplicating his life it only adds more layers of problems.

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Jess Walter looking very happy with his literary efforts.

Jess Walter brings depth to his characters; and yet, the pages turn so fast I found myself having to blow on my fingers to cool them down. The political passages are solid gold and brought back so many memories of that decade. I came of age in the 1980s and yes I had a Members Only jacket that caused a fight in the girl’s bathroom that I’m not at liberty to discuss. I had big plastic frame glasses, tight jeans, and listened to 1970s rock and roll.

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I had a jacket just like this one only I didn't look near as good wearing it.

This was recommended to me by my friend Steve Hotopp and I now pass that recommendation forward. A highly recommended slice of 1980s nostalgia that might have you bringing out the hair dryer and gel again.