Friday, August 7, 2009

William Goldman/MARATHON MAN

When I was a kid, maybe eight or perhaps even younger, I strayed upon the torture scene in the movie Marathon Man on television in a hotel room while my family and I were on vacation.

I've never quite forgotten it, and I blame it both for my fear of the dentist and for a number of bad dreams I had after (as well as my interest in horror fiction), but I never saw the entire movie. Never even knew there was a book before I was an adult.

The book is now on my Project Fill in the Gaps list. It's completed, actually, ready to be crossed off before I go back to Hemingway's Farewell to Arms, a book where people seem to live in some sort of constant state of emotional strangulation. Maybe it's the booze. Or maybe World War II. But probably it's the booze.

Thomas Babington Levy, "Babe" as he's known to his brother, also lives a life of emotional strangulation, but it's the kind graduate students experience. He lives alone in New York City, where he attends Columbia University as a graduate history student. Every day he runs, training for a marathon that will probably never come, and every day he studies, but none of it brings him any real confidence because his father died when Babe was ten, ostensibly of a cerebral hemorrhage, and so Babe's brother, Doc, is forced to look after him both as a brother and a father.

But when Doc bursts into Babe's apartment, literally spilling his guts, dying, he unwittingly involves Babe in a conspiracy involving a Nazi in hiding, stolen diamonds, and a shadowy U.S. government agency called The Division. Without knowing why, Babe is plunged into a dark world of espionage with only his running skills and his wits to keep him alive.

This book marks a first for me. Naturally I wanted Babe to survive, but almost by the end, I didn't care whether he survived, only that he got revenge before he did. I suppose I didn't care because I could see why he didn't care. Here were people who took everything: his father (as it turns out, in their way), his brother, even his girlfriend. All I wanted for Babe was for him to kill Sczell and his associates and to get away. He didn't do both, but the end was still satisfying because it was true, if you see what I mean.


stacy said...

The other thing about this novel that got me was the humor. Babe's insecurity leads to some fine gallows humor.

maryb said...

I read this novel so long ago that I remember very little about it. EXCEPT. The chapter when he is in the bathtub and the slightest noise puts him on edge and he thinks it is just nerves. And of course it isn't. THAT has stayed with me and given me nightmares ever since.

stacy said...

Yes, that scene infiltrated my dreams, too!