David Scott Milton

"The Fat Lady Sings"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer SEP 30, 2002)

"I looked from the guard office to the mountains beyond the prison. With a shock I realized that my house was the only view of civilization that these men had. I imagined that as I was staring down at them wondering what their lives were, they were gazing up at my house wondering what my life was like.

Now we would both have the chance to find out."

The Fat Lady Sings by David Scott Milton

Paul Dogolov is at a point in his life when he needs some sort of positive direction. Ever since his wife left him, he is forced to really consider the paths he has taken. He's a writer who wrote one book that was popular enough to be made into a movie, but recently his writing is ever decreasing in popularity to the point where he's not even sure if he'll be able to make a living. Now all he does is drink, talk to his bitter and colonic obsessed friend, the lawyer Phil Kleinmutz, and think. So he decides to become a writing instructor for the prison down the hill, to see if he can't find some sort of purpose.

Read excerptWhat he finds is romance in prison guard Rita Macklin, and a cause in the form of Travis Wells, a prisoner who writes movingly of his innocence in the murder of his grandfather. Even his fellow inmates seem to believe that Wells is innocent, and Paul can't help but wonder if he can help; keeping the poetic looking young man in prison for no reason would be a true tragedy. So he finds himself driving out in the middle of the desert, to a place called Joshua Crest.

Joshua Crest is a strange place, and an oddly evocative setting for the investigation. It is an industrial town, the kind of place where there's more strip bars than churches, seedy and filled with despair. In some ways, it matches the workings of Paul's own mind, for there is seediness and despair in all his own actions, from his one night stands to his bordering on a problem drinking habit. The only thing that keeps him from being as corrupt as the setting is his love for his two small children.

The characterizations in this gritty novel stand out. You get a real feel for the prisoners as well as the Joshua Crest citizenry, who even at their most disreputable come across as terribly human. Particular favorites...and I use the word favorites lightly, as I would never want to actually meet these people, at least not without a friend and a couple of cans of pepper spray... were the prisoners Sergeant and Baker. These two exemplify one of the frightening aspects of the book, that is, how off-hand a murder can seem to become. Both men say that sometimes people need, or deserve killing. This, compared with Dologov's own bloody time in the Vietnam War, makes some interesting points about how killing, once the shock and compassion are ripped away, can become almost justifiable in one's mind. I have no doubt that any of these fellow would-be writers feel that their own murders are just as justifiable as any war time casualty.

A sometimes odd, sometimes harsh journey through the desert, The Fat Lady Sings offers no comfort to its readers, but some interesting thoughts.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Fat Lady Sings

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About the Author:

David Scott MiltonDavid Scott Milton was an early member of the avant-garde Theater Genesis, along with Sam Shepherd, Leonard Melfi and Murray Mednick. He has had more than a dozen plays performed Off Off Broadway. "Scraping Bottom," under the title of "Born To Win," became the Czech director Ivan Passer's first American film, and starred George Segal, Karen Black and Paula Prentiss. In Los Angeles, "Skin," for which Mr. Milton won the Neil Simon Playwrights Award, ran for nearly a year at The Odyssey Theater.

He has written three screenplays for the director, Peter Bogdanovich: "I'll Remember April" for CBS Theatrical Films, "Paradise Road," for Dino DeLaurentis, "Saturday, Sunday, Monday," for Warner Bros. In addition to Mr. Bogdanovich and Ivan Passer, he has worked with Sidney Pollack, Dick Richards, Irv Kershner, Milos Forman, John Cassavetes, and others. He recently completed the screen adaptation of Jack Valenti's novel, "Protect and Defend" for Laura Pels-Peter Bogdanovich Productions.

He has also published five novels. "Paradise Road" was given the Mark Twain Journal award "for significant contribution to American literature."

For the past number of years Milton has been a Senior Lecturer in Drama and Adjunct Professor in Professional Writing (graduate level) at the University of Southern California. He also teaches screenwriting at the graduate level in the cinema department.

In the past, Milton has been a special lecturer at Goddard College and at Cal Arts, as well as consultant to the creative writing program at the University of South Alabama and literary consultant to Scott, Foresman Publishers, and Warner Books. In February of this year he conducted a screenwriting seminar at The German Film and Television Academy in Berlin.

Since 1992 he has run a writers' workshop on the Maximum Security Yard of the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi where his class consists of a dozen murderers. A one man show, “Murderers Are My Life,” based on his prison experiences will open in Los Angeles and New York.

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