“How to Rob an Armored Car,” by Iain Levison, 2009
Ian Levison is a college-educated guy who held many working-class jobs, and chose to write about them in several hilarious earlier books. One prior one is “After the Layoffs,” about a laid-off loading-dock worker who becomes a hit-man to supplement the money he makes at his new corner-store retail job. And he’s good at it. This book is also about the connection between blue-collar work and crime, through a fog of weed smoke, insecurity and plain dumbness. If you have never stolen from your employer, or bought something off the ‘back of a truck’ or dumped a car into the Mississippi for insurance money, then you perhaps have too good a job.
Levison captures the flavor of 3 white working-class buddies in Michigan – one, Doug, a dreamy slacker; one, Mitch, a laid-off Wall-Mart manager and one, Kevin, a convicted basement pot-grower with a wife, who now walks dogs for a living. These guys never stop ‘doing a bowl.’ Marijuana is the secret ingredient to so many films and books nowadays, it is a little like the depiction of booze in the era of Prohibition. The underground lives that connect with pot also connect with crime. To add to their paltry incomes, these guys boost a giant-screen TV with a faked invoice to pay their rent. Encouraged, they then attempt to steal a Ferrari and amazingly do, only to find it has an electronic tracking system, and find they have to dump it. Plan number three is to non-violently push over some frail and overweight armored-car guards, grab bags of money, and jump into a junker bought for the occasion. None of the crimes are against regular people – only the rich.
Not paying complete attention is a deficit when you are trying to commit a crime. While buying the junker from an isolated old man, they bury a dead dog on the mans property because Kevin forgot he left in his car. It stinks, you see. And the dog, of course, has a tag. Nevertheless, the three succeed at the armored car robbery, almost by accident. Doug bails on the crime at the last minute, but gets tapped by a car, and falls in the street, distracting the guards, who run to help him as they are unloading. Mitch runs and grabs the money and jumps in the car driven by Kevin, and they get Doug in the car at the last moment. One of the security guards shoots his partner by accident.
Mitch sees an arrest coming, and runs to Cleveland with his $66,000, the first real money he’s ever had in his life, and begins crime consulting with local Latinos. Doug buries his $66,000, to wait two years in jail, and gets a lighter sentence because the bank is afraid the news that their employees shot each other will get out. Doug finds out ‘jail isn’t so bad,’ as he has nothing required of him, and he can even get weed in prison. Kevin is questioned, and escapes arrest because Doug takes the fall. However, his wife leaves him. Kevin buys a new truck, hiding the rest of his money in a hole too, and enjoys peace and quiet away from his harridan former wife.
So some kind of happy ending! Levison is a funny and observant writer, who catches the way working-class people talk and think. His main point is that these ‘losers’ actually finally do something of quality, on their own talents, when they rob the armored car. They are all proud of it. They don’t feel guilty. After all, the only people who lost money were the bank and its insurer. And who’s feeling sorry for banks?
Levison is part of a small group of writers that write about working-class life in the United States. Most fiction in this country concentrates on cops and criminals, or FBI/CIA agents, or professors, doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Petit-bourgeois writers write about their own class for the most part, and so it is no surprise that these people get fiction. It is good to see the 'invisible people' of the working class finally getting some ink.
And I bought it at Mayday Books’ excellent fiction section.
Red Frog, 4/11/10