Some might say that Crumbtown isn't a place. It's a state of mind. And for the residents of this sinking, stinking, carcinogenic, potholed neighborhood, "There's bad luck in the world, and then there's crumbluck." But for Don Reedy, a true victim of this phenomenon, his crumbluck is about to change.
Sentenced to 15 years in prison after a botched armed robbery, Don is paroled early when a television producer decides to turn Don's tragic story into a television show. Back in Crumbtown and working as a special consultant on the shoot, Don wrestles with delusional actors, pines for a beautiful Russian bartender, and reunites with cops and accomplices alike. But when the opportunity presents itself, Don decides to do something really daring: He robs the re-enactment of his legendary robbery. With the cameras rolling and the line between television and reality blurring, the hunt for Don--and a ratings coup--is on.
Lean, mean and comically incompetent-so run the characters of Connelly's riotous sophomore effort (after Bringing Out the Dead) about a crime junkie and the town that defeats him. Don Reedy's been down on his luck for as long as he can remember, and a recap of his past reveals a collection of stolen vehicles, botched stickups and robbed banks, the last landing him in jail with a 15-year term. He's just been granted conditional parole and is being shipped back to Crumbtown (a neighborhood in the fictional city of Dodgeport, "where dummies like Don were a dime a dozen") to act as consultant on a TV movie of his life of crime. On the set, he watches his infamous bank robbery replayed, complete with his triumphant trademark of tossing dollar bills in the air while speeding away with the big bucks. He's also keeping a lustful eye on Rita, a tough-talking Russian barmaid running from an abusive husband who can't seem to resist Don's charms. A ridiculous scheme to rob the staged bank on the set reunites Don with inept twin robbers Tim and Tom, the same pair who bungled the original bank robbery but this time manage a clean getaway. Could the cameras still be rolling on Don's new grift? This mangy hit parade of hardscrabble locals is kinetic. Connelly sustains a reckless, devil-may-care mood-a dramatic shift from his stark and harrowing debut-with clipped, fast prose and serpentine plot that offers plenty of opportunities for satire.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 07, 2004
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Excerpt from Crumbtown by Joe Connelly
Joe Far unlocked the door to the bar and held it open with a chair, to let in what was left of the morning and air out the last of the night. He filled the mop bucket in the sink, set the chairs on the tables, the stools on the bar, and rolled the bucket mop and broom into the men's room in the back. Through the dim light of the gated window he swept the used cigarettes from around the sink, the derelict pipes in the corner. The door to the bathroom stall was locked, the handle of a cane hooked over the top. Joe bent down and found the cane's owner sitting on the pot. "Wake up, Tim," Joe said, jabbing his broom into the man's legs. "Up. Get up." When the man didn't move, he took out the mop and rubbed it over the splintered tiles around Tim's feet, then he rolled the bucket out and closed the door.
"Joe, hey Joe." A bald man wearing a neck brace had come into the bar, and was sitting in the shadowed rear end, his stool tilted back into the surrendering paneling. "Get me a beer," the man said.
"No, Tom. We closed." Joe walked to the front door and shut it, slamming the lock.
"Come on, Joe," Tom said. "I need a beer, and one for Tim. He ought to be getting up soon."
Joe Far threw a glass that shattered a foot above Tom's head, a framed photo of a police lineup. "Now I clean," Joe said.
Tom adjusted his brace and walked behind the bar and pulled two bottles from the cooler. "Tim," he yelled, setting a stool on the floor next to his. "Beer," he said.
The bathroom door opened and the cane came out followed by Tim, who knocked down two chairs as he made his way to the bar. "What happened?" he said.
"You fell in there last night. We couldn't wake you up." Tom raised his beer and leaned his stool against the wall. With the brace around his neck, Tom could only drink at sharp angles to the floor. "We thought you were dead."
"Oh no," Tim groaned, "I can't keep living like this." He reached for the bottle in front of him, pressing it to his ribs. "What about my kids, Tom, who's gonna take care of my kids?"
"Who's been taking care of them?"
Tim sighed. He drank for a long time. "I have no regrets," lowering his bottle and lifting it again. "Just tell me one thing, brother, who was better than us?" He stood and banged his cane against the bar. "That's what I want to know. Who was better than us?" He walked to the back corner and hit the switch that lit a spotlight in the ceiling, shining a section of wall hung with newspapers, Tim reading from the top headline, "Robbing Hoods. Bank robbery turns into riot as masked gang tosses $$$ to crowd." The grainy photo beneath, of four men in black ski masks. "Tim and Tom Dwight, Don Reedy, Happy Jones. We were heroes, Tom. They can't ever take that away."
"We were kings," Tom said.
"You're right there, brother." Tim finished the beer and sat down, out of breath. He rested the bottle on its side, "Joe, help us."
Joe Far stood facing the window, broom in hand, and stared at the women clutching their bags at the bus stop, a man punching a pay phone on the corner.
Tim walked around Tom to the cooler behind the bar. The two men were half twins, same birthday, same father, different mothers. They had turned forty together three months earlier, and were still recovering. "Joe, comrade," Tim said, "my Chinese buddy pal. I need a big favor."
"No," said Joe Far, throwing a glass that crashed where Tim had been sitting.
"I need you to call Loretta and tell her I'm dead," Tim said. "It's better if she knows."
Joe swept furiously at the damp floor. "You owe me twelve bucks."
"It's in the will," Tim said. "Loretta will have it for you. My wife gets everything."
"What about me?" asked Tom.
Tim handed him a beer and placed another on the table near the cloud of broken glass that Joe Far was sweeping. "Please, Joe," Tim said, "call Loretta. Tell her I died."
Joe grabbed the remotes and pointed them at the television chained to the ceiling. On the screen, a rabbit was kicking a duck. Joe dropped the broom and lifted a cigarette from his Chinese army-issue raincoat, which in the five years he'd been sweeping there no one had seen him not wearing. He blew a series of smoke rings at the tarred tin ceiling.
Rob Landetta could get his hand on the front doorknob of his apartment. He could turn it. He just couldn't pull. Soon his boss would be calling, asking how come he wasn't in the office yet to pick up the contracts. Why wasn't he on the road already to Crumbtown, to sign up the woman too fat to get out of bed? Rob could understand how his problems with the door were simply the physical manifestations of his inability to write, yet this understanding did not bring him any closer to the computer on his desk; it only reminded him how many used and expired words awaited there.