Friday, June 26, 2009
Review: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3John Godey. ISBN 978-0-425-22879-1. Republished in anticipation of the 2009 film adaptation, this 1973 best seller wears its age extremely well. While the style of the narration, the speech patterns of the dialog, and the chosen character archetypes mark the time period, the language is both crisper and less pretentious than we would expect from a thriller today. All but one of the main characters are male, and they address each other with the vibrant, vulgar and politically incorrect vernacular that imbalance implies. Morton Freedgood (writing as John Godey)'s cast of characters is multi-racial and evenly handled in a New York City when the racial divide still played out on the surface and in the open. From the opening setup to the final punchline, Godey's thriller operates with clockwork precision. The ingenuity and research that went into the subway hijacking itself is sufficient enough to makes its initial success feel inevitable rather than contrived. As events play out, Godey shakes the proceedings up with both predictable speed bumps arising from evident character flaws and the sort of random, unpredictable incidents that naturally arise from such a complex, high-stress situation. The Rashômon-esque device of telling the story through rotating perspectives is tremendously effective at painting a vibrant tapestry of New York City life. The omniscient narrator's wry gallows humor pleasantly adds to the dated quality of the novel. But the IRT Pelham Line still runs from Pelham Bay Park to South Ferry via the No. 6 train, preserving the relevance and potency of the core scenario.