Years ago, when I first stumbled upon The Walkaway, I thought it was the source material for the Paul Newman geezer heist film, Where the Money Is. However, Newman’s second-to-last live-action film bears a little resemblance: he’s a career thief moved to a nursing home who appears to be an immobilized mute after a stroke, a crafty nurse has his number and enlists him in helping her get money to leave her dull life behind: she thinks he either has money stashed somewhere or could help her rob a bank. The coincidence introduced me to Scott Phillips’ work, the premise of his novel intrigued me more, once I made the connection to its proper cinematic roots.
Propelled by the connective tissues of an ensemble and their intertwined subplots, what always made The Walkaway stand out was the way it worked as a shaggy dog detective story complicated by cunningly crafted deceptions and misunderstandings rooted in knotted family trees. Operating as a prequel/sequel, Phillips crafted a sepia-toned crime story with characters haunted by melancholy and regret, who deftly pivot from moments of slapstick to chilling menace.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about Paul Newman a lot lately, or the affable, sometimes sly way Gunther handles even the most awkward missteps, reminds me a lot Newman’s late-career roles. Throughout the book, I couldn’t help but imagine what could’ve been if Newman took one last chance on another dark role before enjoying retirement. I can’t help but think the way Phillips captures the rhythms of the day-to-day life of small towns with an eye towards the absurd, where secrets are traded, and the seedy underbelly goes nearly undetected, would have appealed to Newman’s sensibilities. Despite popular thinking, there aren’t more innocents in the less densely populated parts of the country, just more room to bury secrets.
your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from
Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)
Barnes & Noble