Blacktop WastelandBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
My rating: 5/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

A mistake is a lesson, unless you make the same mistake twice.

ugh, i loved this book. i thought it was a debut, but apparently cosby wrote My Darkest Prayer a few years back and it slipped right past me. so, MY mistake, lesson learned, and i will be grabbing a copy of that ASAP to make things right.

this one is crime fiction in the grit lit/country noir tradition, about beauregard montage—that’s BEAUREGARD MONTAGE, PEOPLE—the flawed but decent son of a wheelman whose own skills behind the wheel once made him a valuable asset to criminals in need of a speedy getaway. apart from his formidable driving skills, his reliability, discretion, and willingness to get his hands dirty earned him an excellent professional reputation and enough money to open his own auto shop and go straight, determined to leave that dangerous life—and his father’s legacy—behind.

“bug” devotes himself to becoming everything his father wasn’t—an attentive husband, a responsible parent, and a respectable small business-owner. although he struggles to make ends meet, due in part to a competing garage offering lower prices and whiter mechanics, he is able to ensure his family’s safety and be a present, positive role model to his sons. however, when his financial situation abruptly worsens and his terminally-ill mother is about to be evicted from her nursing home, he allows himself to be coaxed into taking on ONE LAST JOB!

and you know how that goes.

the first chapter is perfect—it’s self-contained enough to be a short story, and it lays out everything you need to know about bug montage: his mind, his skills, his temperament, his achilles heel, while also establishing the motifs of cars and cons and pride and payback that’ll drive (no puns, please!) the rest of the book.

and it’s so gooooood!

cosby’s writing plants him on the literary side of the genre, with a good balance between character development and action. there is excellent heist and con and double-cross criminal mastermindery stuff here—it’s tight and twisty and surprised me more than a couple of times, but i am a reader more drawn to character work, so for me it was all about bug’s story—the layers of what shaped him into who and what he was, his values, regrets, self-reckonings etc. it’s a very classic noir-structure, but the details make it feel very fresh, and that little jab where a good deed done sours into the worst kind of regret, ahhhhhh delicious.

the writing is vivid and dynamic, and it does occasionally strain a little too hard under its own descriptive weight, The bitter taste soon gave way to a languid turgidity that moved through her body with a stealthy determination &etc, but that’s a minor complaint to the flipside of a major compliment—that it hooked me through parts that i ordinarily would have glossed over. because this book is much more…vehicular than anything i’ve read before—all drag racing and car chases and engine modification etc, which should have made me disengage, but didn’t. i have zero interest in cars in life or as entertainment—i’ve never had a driver’s license, and i’ve never been able to follow car chase sequences in movies, whether they are the “emo boys drive fast” ones (drive, baby driver) or the “tough boys drive fast” ones (the rest). i usually just zone out until the confusing parts are over and use the bodily and property damage as context clues to figure out who won. so you would think that reading a car chase sequence would be even duller to me AND YET—i both followed along and was genuinely invested. there are several cars-going-zoom situations, but one in particular felt very harrowing, and for the first time ever, it was fun to me.

and if we’re dream-casting this movie, i am nominating mike colter in lemond bishop mode (which is as crackerjack a character name as beauregard montage), although he’d probably have to lose some of those luke cage muscles for this. i have been using some of my sheltering in place time to rewatch the good wife/fight, and am smitten anew with his simmering facial expressions and how easygoing and affable he is—the very picture of businessman respectability until you fuck with his money or his family, and then oh, the danger under that smile…he’s got my vote.

Beauregard knew there was no honor among thieves. Boys in the game only respected you in direct proportion to how much they needed you divided by how much they feared you. There was no doubt they needed his skill.

And if they weren’t a little bit afraid of him then that was their mistake.

do not underestimate beauregard montage. or s.a. cosby. this one’s a winner.

this is an excerpt from the little author-letter slipped into the book and it is perfect.

I believe in toxic masculinity and the harmful patriarchal hegemony that it engenders. But I also believe in tragic masculinity. A self-flagellating mindset that diminishes men by inches even as we believe it is protecting us. Tragic masculinity injures us on the inside and leaves behind scars that are felt, not seen. Blacktop Wasteland is about the hereditary disease that is poverty, but it’s also about the violent inheritance that damaged men pass on to their sons. Not just physical violence but the emotional punishment that we inflict on ourselves.

It’s also got a badass cherry 1971 Plymouth Duster in it. And cousin that motherfucking dog can hunt.



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