‘The Silver Bullet’ by James Alan McPherson

The Silver Bullet by James Alan McPherson, 1972

The magic trick:

Bringing up issues of community and manhood, but never getting outright didactic about things

This feels like Elmore Leonard territory, with its plot focused on low-level criminals and their back-and-forth leverage games. We don’t get the pistol-cracking dialogue of Leonard, but instead get something perhaps more substantial: a consideration of manhood.

The story never comes out and says anything directly. But if you’re not thinking about community and manhood and race and identity, then I’m not sure you were reading the same story. It’s all there.

Interestingly enough, I’m not sure the plot ever really hands down judgment or a moral either. There are winners and losers, for sure, but no didactic lesson learned.

And that’s quite a trick on McPherson’s part.

The selection:

“Nationalization,” said Willis.

“And we’ll be doin’ it, not them phonies.”

“But then I’ll be in trouble,” Willis explained. “These guys have already taken over the job. If I let you take it from them, they’ll be after me.”

“That’s your problem,” Dewey said, his eyes showing a single-mindedness. “You wanna be with them or us? Remember, we live round here. If you join up with them, the West Side ain’t go’n be far enough away for you to move.” He allowed a potent pause to intervene, then asked, “Know what I mean?”

Willis knew.

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