A Hunter Review, plus Parker and libertarianism

Pocket Books (1962)

In the comments, Olman Feelyus highlights his review of The Hunter (the first of a threatened many Stark reviews). The whole thing is worth reading, but this passage stuck out:

Ultimately, personal liberty is what the Parker books are about. Parker is an individual, a free radical, attached to no institution, organization, woman or job. The bulk of the series focuses on the individual jobs, the complications therein and the work that Parker needs to do to maintain such an idiosyncratic lifestyle. But the overarching theme of the entire series is what happens when institutions try to restrict Parker’s freedom.

One reason I found this passage interesting is because, in revamping this site, I went through a lot of old e-mail, and rediscovered something Brian Garfield (author of Death Wish, Death Sentence, Hopscotch, and many others) wrote to me some years back when discussing a screenplay he’d done for an aborted film adaptation of Butcher’s Moon:

I vividly remember how [Death Wish director associated with the project] Michael Winner – not usually noted for his warm, tender or cuddly aspect – wanted to have Parker “humanized”; I think the choice was between a puppy dog and a kid playing ball in the street — Parker saves the kid from being run over, something like that. Both Don and I insisted that Parker, the ultimate libertarian even though he probably never read Ayn Rand, might observe the event, but would leave all of them alone to their own fates – the ball, the car, and the kid.

I’ve noticed through years of reading about Stark and corresponding with and talking to Parker readers that there seem to be many libertarians amongst the books’ fan base. That could be coincidental, or it may because libertarians sympathize with Parker’s obsession with having near-complete freedom, even if they would likely agree that Parker’s means should not be used to achieve that freedom.

Mr. Garfield’s comments, though, suggest that the Parker novels could be seen as a criticism of libertarianism, at least in its purest form. The novels could well be saying, this is what the world looks like when self-interest is the primary motivator. And I do mean “the world,” as nearly everyone in the Parker universe is corrupt and thinking of himself first and foremost–it isn’t just Parker.

I’ll leave it to others to do a more in-depth analysis–I mostly gave that sort of stuff up the day I finished my English degree. But I do think it is an interesting prism through which the novels can be viewed.

[For the record, this piece is in no way meant to imply that I (or Westlake) am endorsing or denigrating libertarianism, any more than if I wrote that one could easily do a Marxist take on The Ax that it would mean that either I or Westlake was a Marxist. I am merely suggesting a possible ideological framework that one could use in interpreting the books. That is all.

I’m also not saying that the Parker novels appeal primarily to libertarians. I have noticed that Westlake’s readership falls all over the political map–center-right William Kristol is a huge fan, as is center-left Stephen King. And I don’t know if director Costa-Govras is a Westlake fan or just thought it would be good source material, but judging by what I have read, his film of The Ax (as Le Couperet) is a Marxist take.]