BOOK NOOK: Any new book from novelist George Pelecanos is a special treat

Last year the Writers Guild of America virtually shut down Hollywood when they went on strike over a contract dispute. Formerly industrious writers had time on their hands. One of them was George Pelecanos. He has published twenty novels. He began writing episodes of “The Wire” back in the early 2000′s and has been in demand for TV screenwriting ever since.

His last novel was “The Man Who Came Uptown,” in 2018. With the strike underway Pelecanos had time to revisit a story he had set aside. He wrote more stories. The result is his new collection, “Owning Up.” It consists of four pithy novellas.

I recently spoke to the author, he explained the first story, “The Amusement Machine,” was inspired by an experience he had teaching inmates incarcerated in Washington, D.C. One day he was surprised-one of the prisoners was white. He noted that was unusual. He clarified it isn’t that white people don’t commit crimes, it is just that local judges rarely sentence white criminals to serve time in this particular facility out of fear for their safety. Draw your own conclusions about this particular system of “justice.”

Pelecanos was intrigued. In this story he depicts a solitary white inmate, Ira Rubin, a repeat offender. Rubin’s grift is writing bad checks. Pelecanos described him as a “paper hanger.” In prison Rubin encounters a guy named Jerrod Williams. Jerrod has ambitions. He wants to become an actor. He had gotten sentenced to prison for having the misfortune of being a passenger in a car the police pulled over. They searched the car and found an illegal handgun. The serial number on the gun was scratched off. Not Jerrod’s gun-even so-instant prison time.

Pelecanos crafted a story about their unusual friendship-we watch as Jerrod makes something out of himself while Ira continues repeating the same mistakes. The author told me that even though he teaches in prisons he isn’t being altruistic - there are definitely benefits; jails are good places to find story ideas.

The second story, “The No Knock,” is a frightening account of how things can go wrong when police execute “no knock warrants.” Pelecanos has more than a passing interest in the subject, some years ago cops showed up at his house with such a warrant. His son had committed a crime, but he wasn’t at home that day. It was a traumatic experience for the Pelecanos family.

Story #3 is “The Knickerbocker.” This one is based on an actual disaster in Washington. Heavy snow collapsed the roof of a theater filled with people watching a movie. There were heavy casualties. In the aftermath of that tragedy citizens rushed to help out without regard to their racial differences.

We close out the book with “Owning Up,” the title tale. A teenager makes poor decisions after getting involved with the wrong people. George calls this story his most autobiographical. We go back fifty years. What a crazy scene. Such a fabulous writer. Now George is back writing screenplays.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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