My Ride With Gus Charles Carillo 1996–available
As soon as my eyes hit the first paragraph of My Ride With Gus, this second time around, I remembered why I loved it so much. Fast paced, hip–90s style–and seriously funny, the original premise of a hapless rather self centered successful architect accidentally killing an unwanted New Year’s Eve club pickup, slowly evolves into a warm, layered, surprising novel, rich in family dynamics and misconceptions that engage the reader long past the initial crime. As a New Yorker, even one who hasn’t lived in the city for a few years, the setting and authentic language of the novel is especially appealing.
It begins with Jimmy Gambar waiting for his girlfriend at the very touristy Windows on The World restaurant in the World Trade Center on New Year’s Eve. He intends to ask her to marry him bestowing upon her the Tiffany blue box with it’s 3500 dollar ring inside. He’s 38, about to be made partner in the architectural firm he works for, and believes this is his next logical step. His intended, Wendy Orgel pushes his comfort zone, making him go white water rafting, parachuting, things he would never have considered before he met her, and many of which he’d rather not do at all. She arrives in a tuxedo, no less, and pushes a present towards him, a vibrant neon pink tie, a fashion choice she knows he abhors. As she needles him to wear her gift, he becomes more incensed by the second until he breaks, shouting, “Go fuck yourself” to the women a few minutes before he intended to spend his life with.
From this disaster, he stumbles onto the next. After visiting many bars, he waves down a taxi, an honest to god real NY cabbie, one who listens with sympathy to Jimmy’s recitation of his evening, until he recounts the epithet he spit at Wendy, whereupon the middle class family man cab driver throws him out of his rig blocks away from Jimmy’s upscale apartment. And there’s where Jimmy makes his horrific mistake–he wanders into the local club and staggers along the dance floor with a pretty Puerto Rican girl. He whips out the pink tie and uses it as if he were a matador as she plays along. He scarcely knows what he’s doing by this time, and as he rambles home, is barely aware of the girl following first into his building then his apartment. He tries to rid himself of her, but she won’t budge. When she pulls out some coke, he freaks, she freaks back, kicking him in the groin, and he shoves her hard up against a moderne gooseneck lamp Wendy had given him. And that was that. She was dead. And Jimmy picks up the phone to make a call he had hoped he’d never do–he calls Gus.
Gus, arrives, sizes up the situation, rolls the body up in one of Jimmy’s rugs and they start down the stairs just has Jimmy’s obnoxious neighbor decides to chide Jimmy about not rinsing his recyclables before setting them outside for pickup. Making it through that encounter, just to have Jimmy bid Happy New Year to a mounted police officer as he rides past drawing attention to them as they are loading the rug into Gus’s car trunk. Gus is none to thrilled but takes things calmly in stride. As the two travel over to Brooklyn, the reader becomes acquainted with Gus, and his nickname, The Ghost, for the stealthy way he handles mob related jobs. And we realize, Gus is Jimmy’s brother.
Their trip through, up, down, around Brooklyn, across to Staten Island and back is the meat of the book, the body of the girl almost incidental, yet crucial, but for her presence in the trunk the two brothers would have continued their 20 some odd year estrangement. Jimmy’s background and life story is sketched in through encounters with unique characters, including an unexpected unorthodox priest, a lower rank neanderthal mobster acquaintance of Gus’ and a not so blind hermit clay religious figure artist.
There are some very funny situations, and some very poignant ones, but not a boring moment.
I was clued into My Ride With Gus by a fellow book seller, the book was already in paperback, so didn’t have the usual opportunity of promoting a hardcover and signing with the author. I’ve never met Mr. Carillo, and I don’t believe he’s published a great deal. But even if he never had another thing in print, My Ride With Gus will stand out for me as one of the best novels I’ve read, and certainly one of the best crime novels. And just as enjoyable a trip-this second ride.