Good pal Mojo got me thinking about DIE HARD again the other day, and it brought to mind the novel that movie is based on, NOTHING LASTS FOREVER by Roderick Thorpe–which I read over Xmas last year. Below I’ve pasted a slight polishing-up of my Goodreads review of NOTHING LASTS FOREVER (which I gave 4 of 5 stars) from early this year.
Takeaway: “Xmas stories are inherently about redemption, as is Xmas, which for so many families seems to be the Hail Mary pass of the emotional calendar.”
And also this fact: As Americans we have quietly accepted–in our narratives, and in our government actions, and in our news stories, and in our lives–that the truest Redemption comes through Violence. I don’t state that as media criticism, but as Fact: The Big Win if we want to reduce the amount of high-speed lead going into bodies in this country won’t come from bickering about banning X or buying back Y or screaming about Z’s right to keep and bear As, or screeching that all the Bs are a bunch of Cs for valuing their Ds more than the lives of Es . . . or whatever. It won’t come from threats (no matter how dire) or from punishments (no matter how sever). We will significantly curb our violence when we start telling each other new stories about how to address problems with something other than Force. Full stop.
So, please, be gently–with yourself and with everyone else–on these Days of Awe.
Anyway, that got harsh, and I apologize; it’s Funseasoneveryonehappytime! So, the review:
Here’s the caveat on that rating: This book is actually 5+ for fans of DIE HARD (not the franchise, which God willing *has no fans*, but the original movie), but probably something like 3 stars for Normal Humans Not Already Wrapped Up in an Exploration of Crime Fiction and 1970s Nihilism (for those touring American crime fiction looking to get the lay of the land, I give this an honest 4 stars–and there we sit).
This book is sturdy enough–the pace is good, the bigotry relatively muted, the writing basically stays out of the way–but I’m going to go out on a limb and says that the only thing that makes it remotely interesting to the vast bulk of modern readers is that it’s the basis for DIE HARD (which, incidentally, is my favorite Christmas movie. In case it can’t go without saying, I’m not Christian–but nonetheless feel this film, both in content and mood, captures something ineffable but central to the Xmases of my youth. I can even go so far as to let DIE HARD 2 in on Xmas. But it stops there, Bruce Willy, despite you being my shiznt. For real.) But it’s NOTHING LASTS and DIE HARD taken *together* that’s so fascinating, because they’re basically Dark Twins.
DIE HARD retains the structure of NOTHING LASTS: The basic formula is the same (Problem Solver arrives to CA via plane, ends up sucked into loved one’s raucous office Xmas party, thugs invade, elevators, machine guns, cops and walkie-talkies, ho-ho-ho, &c.), all of the set-piece action sequences that make DIE HARD a delight are carried over from the movie, and both are similarly rooted in a downright iron-clad commitment to the Aristotelian Unities of time/space/action[*] They are, in essence, the same fundamental story told differently, like two bands’ alternate covers of the same ur-song. (I know, it sounds like I’m bizarrely claiming that somehow NOTHING LASTS–which came first and is the *cited source* for DIE HARD doesn’t have primacy. I am, in fact, claiming just that. Like STAR WARS vs. WHATEVER SOURCE YOU FAVOR, this story hits a Deep Place in the American psyche).
But DIE HARD and NOTHING LASTS are twins separated at birth and raised in different homes and in different time periods. DIE HARD–and this is why the DH version of the story has legs that NOTHING LASTS doesn’t–is fundamentally about the Redemptive Power of Violence (both enacting and enduring violence) in the New Year Birth Season of what, in all honesty, is sort of the craziest God you could make up. It makes the ur-story seem like some Norse myth lit only by fire in the darkest depths of the dying time. NOTHING LASTS is no less violent, no less grueling for protagonist or thrilling for the reader, but it is deeply cynical (in the way only America of the ’70s could be) and fundamentally nihilistic. It’s not about the Redemptive Power of Violence because it exists in a universe where there can be no redemption–which is also why, in contrast to DH, it doesn’t *read* as a Christmas story, despite having exactly the same timing and setting.
Xmas stories are inherently about redemption, as is Xmas, which for so many families seems to be the Hail Mary pass of the emotional calendar.
By itself, NOTHING LASTS is the sorta book you find abandoned in a beach rental, read over the course of a couple days while your kids get sunburned, then re-abandon in a motel lobby once you’ve finished the final page. But reading it against DIE HARD lets you see what’s really making DIE HARD work as an essential Xtian American text about how Violence–absorbing it and meting it out–is *the* Way to Solve Our Problems. Frankly, having them side by side answers a helluva lotta questions raised by the daily news.
Recommended, especially in this time of Giving and Receiving.