By Pamela Tarajcak
In this sixth book in the Sailor and Lula series, Bad Day for the Leopard Man, Barry Gifford picks up a decade after Consuelo’s Kiss. It finds Sailor and Lula in their sixties, Pace already divorced from Rhoda and working for a fancy director, and Marrietta freshly passed away, and Lula in mourning. (Side note, this book was dedicated to Monty Montgomery, Lynch’s friend, Cowboy in Mulholland Drive, and the person that got Lynch and Gifford together in the first place.)
Pace’s fancy director, Philip Real, nicknamed the Leopard Man (who in no way bears any resemblance to David Lynch, even though Real’s films are surreal and weird) is planning to go to New Orleans to shoot a movie called Cry of the Mute. (Everyone jokes that it should be called Cry of the Mutilated.) Most of the first fourth of the novella details Real’s prep work for the film in California. Pace is excited for Real to meet his parents with whom the two will be staying. Real is looking forward to meeting the parents of someone so refreshing to know as Pace Roscoe Ripley.
When they arrive in New Orleans though, everything goes haywire. Just as Sailor meets them at a local shopping center (Lula decided to wait in the car), a robbery occurs nearby and the robbers steal a car to use as a getaway vehicle…the Ripleys’ car, with Lula in it. Because the cops hear Sailor mention that it was his car, the authorities assume that Sailor, Pace and Philip were accomplices and detain them. Even though they find it awfully “funny” how crime follows the Ripley men around, the cops find they were wrong and let the men go. Meanwhile, the criminals, two teenage delinquents named Oretta “Kitty Cat” Cross and Archie Chunk, force Lula to be their driver. They constantly harass (through lewd sexual talk) Lula and talk dirty to each other. As the men try to figure out what to do, Sailor and Pace tell Philip all about the Fortune/Ripley story which inspires Philip to create a film about them. He mulls over the title “Wild at Heart” but settles on “Strange Voyage.” Later, as Sailor catches up with the cops about what’s happening on their end, the reader learns two things. First, that Pace was never charged in the Rattlers affair because everyone involved lied and said that he was being held captive and forced by the Rattlers. Second, we also learn when he first called Lula peanut.
When Kitty Cat and Archie set the ransom at $100,000, the men try to figure out how to come up with the money. Meanwhile Philip is continuing to develop the “Strange Voyage” film. Meanwhile, Rhoda, after learning of Lula’s kidnapping from Pace, comes in unexpectedly and talks reconciliation. As captive Lula has terrible flashbacks of Big Tuna, she is continually witness to lurid behavior between the couple. Meanwhile, Philip mentions to Sailor about the possibility that Clark Westphal and Flower Reynolds will play Sailor and Lula in the film about their lives. Sailor likes the idea. As Sailor, Pace and Philip go to the meeting spot, Kitty Kat and Archie Chunk leaving Lula behind, get into a fatal car crash and die. Lula finds her way to a garden where coincidentally Sparky and Buddy are walking (it’s their nursing home’s garden). They notice someone in the begonia bushes and are shocked it’s Lula.
Two chapters follow. “Radiance” details a plane crash that killed all it’s passengers including Philip Real. The plane crash happened near Big Tuna. Looks like that hellhole wants to hold on to it’s secrets. “Letter to Dal” picks up two years later and serves as a coda to the novella. In the two-year time frame between the end of the novella and this “Letter,” Lula and Sailor live a quiet life and unfortunately Pace and Rhoda didn’t work out again. Then “last Thursday,” Sailor suddenly dies from a car wreck. Pace wants to permanently take care of Lula forsaking his own life, which worries Lula a little. Lula confesses she feels dead inside and feels like she’s now a lost soul. The book closes, “I been a fortunate woman I know but I cant believe its over and truth is I guess I might never.” (596)
This was an interesting read. Not as bad as Sultans of Africa but certainly not up there with Wild at Heart and Consuelo’s Kiss. The book wasted half the time getting to know Philip when he ended up dead and useless in the end. We spent too little time with Sailor and Lula that to have them separated for the last half of the book and not even seeing a reunion was a disappointment. It was even more of a deflating ending, without the reunion, knowing that in the final book, there will be no Sailor and Lula, just Lula. Finding out that Sailor died was certainly sad, as many would have hoped that these two would have gone out together. Making Lula a widow is gutting.
Kitty Cat and Archie were just as sickening in their villany as the Rattlers and had similarly no other redeeming features to even out their villany. However, it was interesting the way that they were sort of the “Dark Version” of young Sailor and Lula, almost as if Kitty and Archie were the evil doppelgangers of the Ripleys. Hearing that the older generation is dead made the book less interesting. Because Marrietta, once she stopped being so anti-Sailor, was a hoot of a character. Johnnie must have also died in the intervening time, because Gifford doesn’t tell what happened to him. Again Perdita makes no appearance so she is officially classed a “dropped character.” Dal is only mentioned in the letter but again, doesn’t make an appearance. A lot of the old spirit of many of the best books in the series is missing because of this. Moreover, just a note, that the letter is written without any grammar or punctuation. The witty dialog is still there, but the pacing is off as it wastes time with Philip, makes the reader do too much “biding time” with Sailor waiting for the drop, and to end with a head spinning deus ex machina of sorts where Lula just happens to end up in Sparky and Buddy’s nursing home’s flower bed, is odd.
With this in mind, does it show that the series is losing steam and is going to peter out to a whimpering finish in Imagination of the Heart? We shall have to see.
The version of the book I quote from is:
Gifford, Barry. Sailor and Lula: The Complete Novels. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2010. The Barnes and Noble Nook E-Book edition.