George Pelecanos looks for light in darkness

Writer George Pelecanos talks exclusively to FOTIS KAPETOPOULOS about his latest book release The Way Home and HBO television masterworks The Wire and The Pacific.

George Pelecanos shot someone when he was a teenager. “I shot a dude when I was 17 years old and spent some nights in jail,” says Pelecanos.

<p>I thought I was a bit of dirt but here I am now with a family and am an established writer, so I try to tell incarcerated young men, that life is long, it’s not short like people say, there is hope and you can change.</p>

The multi award winning Washington D.C. based author of 18 titles and writer and producer for The Wire and The Pacific, was once a wayward teen.

“Something happens to teenage boys, something in their brain snaps,” says the father of three teenagers to Neos Kosmos.

“I have two teenage boys, one 17 the other 19 and 13 year-old daughter.” In his most recent book The Way Home, Chris Flynn, the main character, a white boy from a ‘good family’, goes off the rails.

Repeat offences over marijuana use, a stupid car chase and a punch-up sees Flynn locked up in juvenile detention.

Ten years later Chris is working with his father in the family carpet-laying business in Washington D.C. and is assisting his mainly African American fellow ex-cons to find their way home. Not all is right though.

His father still harbours resentment and disappointment. Chris should have gone to college, become a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, not a carpet layer.

Like in a Greek tragedy, fate is the real author of misery and redemption in The Way Home.

Pelecanos in a raspy Washingtonian drone says, “Like Chris in the book, I knew I was disappointing my parents but I could not switch off as a teenage boy.”

“I thought I was a bit of dirt but here I am now with a family and am an established writer, so I try to tell incarcerated young men, that life is long, it’s not short like people say, there is hope and you can change.”

“It is about fathers and sons in the end” the horror and ultimately the way home, is about “the love that Chris and his father find.”

Like in all of Pelecanos’ work The Way Home, The Wire, and even the massive television event The Pacific, life is complex.

Human beings and their emotions, their relations, their actions and reactions, are products of a system of failures.

In the uncomfortable narrative of Baltimore based crime series The Wire George Pelecanos and David Simon generated a profound piece of art and social commentary on the post-industrial world.

They tackled head-on the disappearing working class and the unproductive and corrupting vendor finance class, ultimately responsible for late industrialisation’s demise. “It’s about the new reality, when we no longer produce… look at what happened at Wall Street,” says Pelecanos.

Pelecanos also underscores, “We used a significant cast of African Americans as complex characters, not stereotypes.”

“It was hard work, the hardest I’ve ever worked, we worked 16 hours a day to get the dialogue right it had to be precise and authentic, it had to reflect the various nuances from each part of the city, of class and education… you would not get any character for example to say ‘niga’ just for the sake of it…it had to ring true.”

In all of Pelecanos’ work there is authenticity. There are no clean lines, no straight up good or super dark bad, mere humans inhabit his pages and his screen.

The Pacific may seem like a departure for Pelecanos, yet there is the recurring theme of the importance and luminosity of hope as humanity teeters on the edge of an abyss. The immeasurable waste and inhumanity that war is – be it jungle war in The Pacific, where Pelecanos’ late father saw action, or in the ghettos of Baltimore, or in the gentrifying suburbs of Washington.

Pelecanos honours his father with The Pacific. “Dad was a man who fought in the Philippine island of Leyte, in, 1944 WWII…” his voice breaks, a silence.

“My father died last year…” silence again, “…you think you prepare for this, but you don’t,” he says.

It is said by some that Greek sons prepare for their father’s death, never their mother’s; maybe it is an ancient ritual in the making of a ‘man’.

Like in all wars, The Pacific’s heroes are not made they are forged in blood and terror.

“I did not want anyone to believe that this was a glorious war. This was a horrific and vicious war. Men were dropped into islands and had to fight their way through.”

In the third episode of The Pacific Pelecanos introduces viewers to a Greek and multicultural Melbourne.

One of the U.S. Marines, stationed in Melbourne after the bloody Battle of Guadalcanal, Leckie Basilone, falls in love with Greek Australian, Stella.

Stella’s family are refugees from Asia Minor who migrated to Australia after the burning of Smyrna (Ismir) by the Turks in 1922.

The authenticity of the characters is again evident, like in all of Pelecanos’ television and literary works.

“I always seek authenticity, I want to show Greeks as they are, real, with the positives and negatives.” Again, the father is always there.

The young men in The Pacific look for their fathers’ recognition and love in the blood soaked loam of jungles that many never leave.

Pelecanos’ father migrated to the U.S. from Sparta in the 1920s and his mother, also from Sparta, was a native of America.

Pelecanos recalls when in the early 90s he had published three works and was being lauded in New York when his father in a typically Greek fashion said, “This is great son but when are you getting serious?”

Driven by the love and memory of his father, Pelecanos is now a father and a serious man. The production talents of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg as well as Pelecanos’ script will no doubt make The Pacific a culturally important and historic event.

Pelecanos and David Simon have teamed up with HBO to produce Treme which tackles the disastrous 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The Pacific screens on Channel 7 Wednesdays 8:30pm.