Monday, August 23, 2010

The Warriors

The Warriors by Sol Yurick (1965)

Sol Yurick writes in his 2003 introduction to his 1965 novel, The Warriors:
"Gangs (of the time I was writing about) were quite different than the gangs of today. For one thing, automobiles were not available to them. For another, there were very few guns around. The gangs were neighborhood-bound and quite ignorant of the city outside their territories; indeed, they were frightened of strange turf. Whatever contacts, alliances, conflicts, and permissions to travel through alien lands belonging to other gangs took place were conducted through their leaders. They practiced diplomacy from gang to gang, albeit in crude language, but formally, just like the diplomacy conducted by nations. It's fascinating to see these social forms spring up among the 'ignorant' 'lower' social strata; no readers of Kissinger they...and yet the had the same sophisticated understanding. ¶ Economically the gangs of those times were totally marginal. They had just about no entree into organized crime. The very need to form gangs was a product of their irrelevance." (xxvi-xxvii).

1. "They parleyed back and forth a little about the safe passage. The little leader said he didn't know if he could let the Family through. After all, the matter should be discussed in council. They talked a little about one another's reps, what brother gangs they ran with, what interborough affiliations they had, who they knew. But though the Dominators and the Blazers had never heard about one another, they took care to admit one another's big reps. They pulled out clippings: Hector's from the Daily News; the little leader's from La Prensa, in which their gang's raids and bops were written up. They bragged how many men they could field. Hector said that they had a Youth Board Worker. The little Borinqueno had to admit that they didn't have a worker yet, but they were busting out hard and should be assigned one any day now. Hector hastened to say that the Youth Board was overworked, short-handed and it was short-sighted on the Board's part, not so much an insult." (83-84)

2. "The Junior was having difficulty with the center of the map. He had it figured out that they were on the wrong line; they had to change somewhere, or they would never get to where they wanted--where? All the train lines met in the center of the city, and got tangled up there, and then emerged again, and everything ended up where it should end, but The Junior was having trouble following it; he moved his forefingers slowly along the lines trying to bring them together, but train jolts kept knocking his fingers loose. He tried to rush it so he wouldn't look duncy in the eyes of his Family." (73)

3. "They passed an apartment building. A lot of broken furniture was lying around in the street. It worried the family. Might mean an assembly and ammunition dump: tables with legs fixed to come off easily, couch springs for wire whips, guns stashed away in the fluffy arms of busted-down easy chairs, ash-can covers for shields and ash cans full of broken Coke bottles to fling, rocks, used light bulbs, pipe ends, loosened spikes in the iron fence, old-fashioned spear-headed cast-iron floor lamps, stacked bricks, and oiled excelsior bunches to fire and fling from the rooftops. All the enemy had to do was to boil out of the doorways, race up from behind the stoops and the whole arsenal--nothing the cops could call weapons--was ready for them. The Family would have to run a gauntlet under the fort. But the houses were very old here, and there was a reason for throwing out furniture, and a street this wide was never a good place to ambush anyone. It couldn't be blocked off from the ends; it couldn't really be controlled from the roofs and, for that matter, the cops could easily come down on everyone with their superior tank force, cordon off the whole battlefield and take both sides in." (92)

Quote #1 reads like a sociological case study and is a very good fictional depiction of Yurick's research on gangs. There's also Yurick's joke on social workers from the gang's perspective: it was a strong symbol of badassery to have a your very own social worker assigned to your gang. The Warriors, at least up until page ninety-nine, reads in this manner: it feels like a detached, sociology text written by an observer. There is a real attempt to reach an understanding into the inner consciousness of gang members. Adult perspectives, from a Youth Board Worker, a cop, and bus driver, who have encounters with the young gangs occur early in the text; and what the adults have to say to the reader almost represent societal views towards gangs perhaps at the time. The Youth Board Worker, adopting the lingo and mannerisms of the gang that he is attempting to help, sees wayward children who need nurturing and encouragement and, above all, patience: helping just one gang member become a productive citizen is positive. The cop and the bus driver see potential criminals and troublemakers. A very somber tone dominates this portion of The Warriors; and Yurick's jokes are subtle and sparse in the text. Quotes #2 and #3 are fun to play off each other: quote #2 emphasizes that this gang is still made up of children: reading a map of a world that you've never seen before might be helpful with adult consultation (the description of the adults on the train really should be encountered first by the reader. Adults do not fare well in Yurick's depiction in The Warriors.) Quote #3 is brilliant military strategy from instant observation on the spot: these kids definitely know how to fight. However, post page-ninety-nine (ish), The Warriors slips and loops out. Here are two passages from Yurick describing writing his first book Fertig and writing The Warriors while attempting to publish Fertig. The second quote is informative upon The Warriors:

"Whereas it had taken more than a year to write Fertig, it took me three weeks of intense work, after research to write [The Warriors]. I could not have done it the way I did without having gone through the growth process in the writing of Fertig." (xxi)
"I ended with a completely un-Camus-like book [Fertig], being led into astonishing directions and discovering that the world, the real world, was more absurd, crazier, more ding-an-sichtlich than any fiction writer, no matter how ingenious and imaginative, could conceive. And, at the same time, without being quite conscious of it, I was also discovering that the social 'sciences' were in themselves partially forms of fiction." (xix)

Any sophistication (or better, read civilization) dies out in The Warriors at around a hundred pages. The irrational becomes polarized and the violence is unrelenting; and Yurick's prose matches the substance of the text. What follows is my favorite passage from The Warriors:
"Wounded Hinton, bruised Hinton, tired and drifting Hinton, Hinton the outcast, set himself against the town and its sheriff. He fought for his Family; he fought for his pin; he fought for himself. While the sheriff was sounding him and boasting and making his rep big--hadn't he put down a thousand pitiful outlaws--Hinton drew the guns and cocked them. And when the word came, he fired just a fraction of a second ahead of the sheriff. This time the voice cried out in pain and told him, all right, he had won it this time. But there were two more chances and it was best out of three. ¶ The figure stood there. Did it lean a little to the side? Did blood ooze from a hole in the shoulder, staining the front of that fancy western shirt? Did a look of pain make that impassive face a little whiter? Did it twitch? Hinton's guns were cocked and he was waiting before the word came to drawcockandfire. He won a second time because the gun leaped in his hand and it spurted fire first; hot lead sprung across the gap, and crumpled the man who had shot him down and moved him on and wouldn't let him live. Was there a new hole ripped into that flesh? The yelp of pain was joyful to Hinton and he grinned. The little kid pulled at his coat, asking him for a dime again, and he put the smoking gun down, dug, gave the kid a dime, and got ready for the third shot. He won that one too; he got the sucker right in the eyeball. ¶ Hinton, very tired, straightened slowly in spite of his wounds, sucked in air, and felt new now--a man. He had faced up to and beaten the sheriff. He could have won another round, but he had the sense to put the guns away now, even though he was entitled to a free fight. He turned and walked away, began to strut through the arcade, and out; it was time to go and see if the Family had made it back." (164-165)

This passage needs no commentary from me. Initially, I was going to write this post mixing Yurick's novel and Walter Hill's film (not really comparing the two but being oh-so clever and playing the two off each other. I realized this was an extremely shitty thing to do: Yurick is an obscure writer, and he notes in his 2003 introduction that many would have never read The Warriors had the film never reached "cult" status. I am a reader in that class. After reading his introduction, like many good author introductions, it says as much about Yurick in its telling as it does in its text. I feel a real kinship to him). The 2003 edition of The Warriors, published by Grove Press [New York, from where all the above page citations come] is essential reading. Yurick's introduction details his literary genesis for The Warriors to its publishing to his reactions and encounters with Walter Hill's film adaptation. He also shares about his life and his philosophical development. Fairly radical in its structure and very daring in its substance, The Warriors is a hidden gem.


Alex B. said...

Wow, I had no clue "The Warriors" was based on a novel! Some interesting writing style there. Thanks for alerting me to this one.

J.D. said...

I'm ashamed to say that I've never read Yorick's novel despite being a huge fan of the film. I really need to fix that and your post certainly has piqued my curiosity about checking it out. You provided some very fascinating analysis (and quotes to back it up) of Yorick's novel and if memory serves he wasn't too keen on Walter Hill's take on his book.

Hans A. said...

Cool, fellas, I hope you check Yurick's novel out. It is very much well worth reading--a fascinating piece of literature.

Aaron said...

I haven't read the book either. I'm gonna see if the ginormous used book store near where I live has this. Thanks for writing about it, Hans.

Hans A. said...

It's a quick read to boot, Aaron. Perfect for any down time during work or on a commute. Hope you share your thoughts after reading and take care.