Stories remind me of people. Something in their style calls to mind the mannerisms of family and friends. Self-important historical epics make me think of a lumbering middle-school teacher. The upper-crust comedies of P.G. Wodehouse take me back to a certain night out on the town with my little-black-dress-clad, then-future wife. Having just finished Naguib Mahfouz’s The Thief and the Dogs, I find myself thinking of the Florida redneck who taught me to handle a gun, a man as hard and direct as the bullets he shot.
The years Said Mahran spent in an Egyptian jail did little to cure him of his affinity for burglary. Instead, they gave him a new vice -- revenge. Newly free, he wants the lives of his ex-wife and her lover, the two people who turned him over to the police. And when an overture to a former revolutionary friend turned nouveau riche falls flat, Said adds another name to his murderous list. He gets a gun from the owner of a less-than-reputable café and love from a faithful whore, but a fatal mistake quickly turns everyone else against him. A stray slug can take more than a life; it can kill a man’s most-cherished plans.
Mahfouz’s slim little novel is less interested in the niceties of vengeance than in examining the consequences of an ill-aimed life. Said soon moves beyond mere retribution and starts striking out at anyone and everyone who gets in his way. A gentle Sufi mystic chides him, yet Said is so wrapped up in bitterness that he can’t grasp the ruin that envelops him. It doesn’t matter how hot your rage burns when the whole world is nipping at your heels.
(Picture: CC 2007 by nebarnix)