Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Booklog, The Ski Mask Way, 50 Cent and k. Elliott

The Ski Mask Way
50 Cent and k. Elliott
Pocket Books Trade Paperback, 213 pages

You heard me right. Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, is a published author. Or at least a co-author, with k. Elliot (an author obscure enough not to have a Wikipedia page, although he or she has published at least one or two other books, according to Amazon) he has written and published The Ski Mask Way, and in a lot of ways it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect.

The plot hinges on Seven, a NYC native who has been transplanted to Charlotte afte NC after serving time for drug dealing, and who runs with Butter, a lowlife thug known more for his brutality than his smarts. The book opens with the two of them sitting in an Impala listening to hip-hop (the artists are all identified in the book, although not being a fan of the music I can't really comment on it), smoking weed, and talking about movies and life. By the end of the first half-dozen pages, they're planning robberies, and by the end of the first chapter they've made some "paper", in the book's lingo.

As the book continues, we meet Seven's "baby-mama", an ex-prison guard named Adrian who lost her job because of her relationship with the then-incarcerated Seven, and their three-year-old son Tracey. Tracey has an unspecified disease that makes it impossible for him to walk, and much of what follows will happen because Seven needs to have the money for his son's operation that will allow him to walk and be rehabilitated.

That's not to say that Seven is a family man. He has a hot girlfriend names Elise who helps to set up victims for his robberies, and who eventually leads him to Reno, a big-time gangster in the relatively small town. Seven's original plan is to get Elise to seduce Reno into giving away the location of his stash of drugs and money, then to break in and rob the more-powerful man. But Reno is no fool, and sees right through the trick, gaining Elise as his girlfriend in the process.

If this all seems a bit strung-together, that's because it is. This all takes place within the first forty or fifty pages, and I've barely given it less description than the book itself -- there is no metaphor or real description to speak of here, but simple dialogue that spells out direct motives for the character's actions, and a long series of sketchily-described locales.

By the end of the book, people die (although not always who you expect) and a whole lot of money changes hands. The characters remain barely two-dimensional stick figures that live violent lives absolutely free of any police intervention (except one very short scene involving mall security) and who seem to have no real inner lives to speak of. Even Seven, the protagonist of the piece, fighting to make enough money so that his son can learn to walk, never seems to have any real depth of character, and a short scene in which he tears up over the life he has to live in order to give his son a new lease on life is perfunctory at best.

The book ends with snippets of two other 50 Cent-authored pieces, both of which seem better than this one, so it may be the Elliott simply isn't a very good coauthor. This book is clearly meant to be a sort of modern-day analogue to the dime novels of the "pulp fiction" era, and in a lot of ways I think it fills the same role. While the writing doesn't stand up to, say, Raymond Chandler's, I'll bet there were dozens if not hundreds of hack writers banging out crime fiction in 1940 that would've read exactly like this, if one switched out the Italian crime bosses for African-American drug dealers, and inserted the word "nigga" approximately twice per page.

It's easy to look at this sort of thing as the collapse of Western civilization, but while there's absolutely no reason to ever buy this book for its literary merits, it does sort of make sense as a dumb sort of thrilling crime fiction. I can't comment on the "reality" of the situations it describes, but there's really no insight here that can't be gotten in a dozen generic gangsta movies or rap videos, and the plot is so thin that I've read cheap erotica with more depth and emotional heft.

Oh, and there's this bit from page 88:
Antonio sat in the front, Butter and Seven sat in the back. Squeeze put in a G-Unit mix tape and pulled off in a hurry as they bobbed their heads to the latest Lloyd Banks song. "Yo, that nigga Banks is nice. I like his delivery," Squeeze said.

"Yeah, but I think Tony Yayo is the nicest," Antonio said.

"Hell, that nigga Fifty is the nicest to me. I mean, this nigga is getting his marbles. They can hate if they want, but he has an empire -- clothes, music, video games, Vitamin Water..." Seven said.

That's right, Fifty name-checks himself in his own book. Raymond Chandler eat your heart out.

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