On September 5th, 2001, Tyler, the eponymous character of David Winner’s metafictional novel Tyler’s Last, scrambles up a steep, garbage-strewn incline in a Spanish beach town called La Porqueria, which translates to filth in English. That’s funny, because for all its in-country charms, Spain abounds in overdeveloped coastal towns inundated by sun-starved European tourists. Tyler, an elderly American conman whose duties sometimes stray into murder, has retreated to La Porqueria after the Italian government shut down his money laundering business. Gone are his wealth, Amalfi coast home, and gold-digging wife.
But this is a novel of nested tales—told by Winner in the hard-boiled vernacular of a ’50’s noir detective story, but with a lot more profanity—and the next chapter introduces the famous thriller writer Eve, who has just written the preceding chapter about Tyler in La Porqueria. She has come to La Herradura, an actual town on la Costa Tropical of Spain, to start what will be her final novel, also entitled Tyler’s Last. “More than just her favorite character from the thriller books she writes, [Tyler] was her ideal man,” Winner writes. In fact, he is she, and she is he. Adding more mirrors to this funhouse of transposed identities, Eve is also an authorial creation herself, a fictionalized version of the novelist Patricia Highsmith, and Tyler is Highsmith’s most famous creation, Tom Ripley.
In the last stages of Parkinson’s, Eve struggles to give Tyler, and therefore herself, a fitting exit. While she has Tyler on a mission to find out if Cal, a former lover he thought he killed, is still alive, Eve undertakes a quest to avenge herself of a past jilting.
Their pursuits take them around the world, but if the reader is looking for a travelogue that highlights the charming and picturesque details of the exotic locations that serve as backdrops of the story, she’ll be in for a disappointment. Eve and Tyler are sociopathic narcissists whose charms have faded with age, leaving them dependent upon their only reliable friend, alcohol. Their view of the world dim and tawdry, they tend to spend their time in dim and tawdry bars or drinking in their rooms, venturing out only for work or in pursuit of revenge. They see the world from the shadowed interiors of cars, planes and trains, reducing everyone they encounter, Donald Trump-like, to their most glaring physical characteristics.
Eve dismisses Rotterdam, where she has gone to track down the lover who so brutally dumped her, as “European Asia,” where minarets, madrassas and Arabic dominate. New York, the first stop on Tyler’s hunt for Cal, is reduced to the seedy bar of Hotel Pennsylvania, a subway crowded with minorities, and the crush and frenzy of Grand Central Station, where Tyler hunts down the AOA who has escaped him.
Who is the AOA? He is the Adopted Oriental Adolescent son of Cal’s brother. As a former AOA, and a current Adopted Oriental Adult, I cringed at the depiction of the traitorous Asian adoptee who callously carries his bleeding and unconscious dad into a closet in their Greenwich home, leaving him there to die as he traipses off with Tyler to New York City.
But I have to tell myself to get over myself. The characters are caricatures. The author has deftly reproduced the colonialist mindset of an era when white arrogance reigned supreme and travelers endeavored to ignore the inelegant realities of the destination while replicating the cozy amenities of home.
Finally, Eve has wreaked her revenge on her ex-lover in Rotterdam and returns back to her home in Normandy, where she writes Tyler’s last chapter. He has arrived in St. Louis, Senegal, dragging along the re-captured AOA while hot on the trail of Cal. In the former capital of French West Africa, poverty is rampant and the locals walk around in recycled American t-shirts and rags. The streets are crowded, dirty and swamped with aggressive beggars and touts, the colonial-era hotel where Cal is staying a welcome oasis. There, Tyler can get a perfect martini “served by handsome negroes in white,” even if he has to stay in a local hotel with a view of the Senegal River but no electricity, “like some cut-rate Venice.”
September 11th happens, but is merely incidental to our two anti-heroes. The new era it ushers in leaves Eve and her creation mired in history. While Eve breathes her last in Normandy, Tyler must follow suit.
Here’s where I admit to never having read Highsmith. And after reading this novel, I don’t want to. I would, however, read more David Winner, as Tyler’s Last takes the reader not only on bizarre and occasionally funny transcontinental adventures, but also on the metaphysical journeys of the birthing of a book and the dying of a person.
By David Winner
Published by Outpost19, Oct 2015
-by Alice Stephens