As a big fan of The Wire I thought I might like something by one of the main writers on the show. I loved it.
The Sweet Forever is one of the D.C. Quartet, along with The Big Blowdown, King Suckerman and Shame The Devil. This is the first of the four that I have read, though I am planning on getting hold of copies of the others as soon as I can. It is actually the third book published out of the group, but I could not tell this until after I had finished it and looked to see what other books were available by the same author. It was not as if I was joining part of the way through a series.
The book follows Marcus Clay and his friend Dmitri Karras through a few days in early 1984, in Washington D.C. Clay is the owner of Real Records, and has just opened a new store in a neighbourhood filled with guns, drugs and failed dreams. In this world we also find Donna Morgan, one of Karras’ former lovers, her current boyfriend Eddie Golden, Tyrell Cleveland and his crew of drug dealers – including the young and hopeful Alan Rogers, and two crooked cops, Richard Murphy and his racist partner, Richard “King” Tutt.
Much like with The Wire, the book moves around in the neighbourhood, each day looking at the different struggles and problems that confront its inhabitants, whether it is young love, corruption, developing a conscience or just trying to earn a living. Given the detail and depth of their lives, it is easy to forget that the events of the books cover only a few days – with the exception of the last couple of chapters, set later in the year.
The backdrop of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament, and the performances of Len Bias are a running motif throughout the book, with basketball often being a way of people to relate to each other. That Bias was killed by the same addiction that affects many of the characters adds another layer of tragedy to the end of the book, and shows that drugs can affect anyone, not just the poor.
Given that Pelecanos was responsible for writing the biggest episodes of The Wire, and often wrote the scenes where characters were killed, it is no surprise that there are deaths in the book, and that they aren’t solely reserved for the most unlikable of characters. While it can be a bit frustrating when a character you like gets shot in a corner shop, much as with the TV show, it demonstrates how dangerous the characters lives are.
If you are a fan of crime novels, The Wire (or much of David Simon’s work) then I think that this will really appeal to you. It does not just create a very realistic and wonderfully textured world, but it is also very well paced, with the momentum of the book slowly building to an incredibly dramatic but wonderfully written ending.
I also recommend that you listen to the Grantland Network Hollywood Prospectus Podcast interview with Pelecanos from a couple of months ago.