The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke
Iry Paret has just been released from Angola state Pen where he was serving time for manslaughter. Iry is a complex man (aren’t they all…). A Korean veteran and musician, he seeks peace in life but doesn’t know where it might be found. When his aged father dies shortly after Iry returns home, he sells up and hauls off from his native Louisiana to 60’s Montana, where he stays with a prison friend named Buddy Riordan.
If Iry is messed-up, then Buddy is slightly ahead in the race to see who is craziest. He has an estranged wife he hopes to win back, and two young sons who don’t really know him. But fate has other designs for Buddy, and Iry is a large part of them. Buddy’s father, Frank, is a tough and principled farmer with a penchant for picking fights with dangerous people. He has managed to upset most of the local city of Missoula by taking a pulp mill to court because of its toxic emissions. Now the people are scared that their jobs are on the line and Frank Riordan is stubbornly walking himself into a heap of bad times. Iry begins to wonder what exactly he has gotten himself caught up in.
Burke’s well-paced plot deepens as Iry falls in love with Buddy’s wife, Beth, and he struggles with his conscience and the decision whether or not to admit to his good friend that he is having a relationship with the woman Buddy still loves. However, events intervene when local thugs decide to take matters into their own hands as regards the problematic Riordans. Iry is swept along in the resultant chaos, destruction and death.
The Lost Get-Back Boogie is a gem of a book. As is usual for Burke, the prose is poetical. His depictions of the Montana countryside are vivid and borne of an obvious personal love for the place. The plot is strong and weaves just enough to keep the reader hooked. It’s a strange book in some ways. The dialogue is sparse but intense. It might remind the reader a little of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, as Iry and Buddy try to find their safe place in a convoluted society, whilst continuing to play with fire on the side.
The ending does not bring full closure to the story. It’s bitter-sweet. But then again, that is how some of the greatest American novels are. East of Eden, Of Mice And Men, All The Pretty Horses, No Country For Old Men and Lonesome Dove all have that same melancholic vibe running through their contemplative appreciation of the land, and the sadness of the people there.
Burke has written many great novels. He is one of the best there has ever been. The Lost Get-Back Boogie is yet another to add to a growing list. If James Lee Burke doesn’t get a Nobel Prize for Literature, then that award will become greatly diminished as a result.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. A classic example of Americana literature and not to be passed over. This book will leave you with an aching emptiness stemming from the loss felt by the characters. It’s a fine story that can make a reader embrace the emotions found in a telling and cause them to feel strongly for the protagonists.