Rants of a Grumpy Old Man: Celebrating Mark SaFranko

Mark SaFranko

Mark SaFranko is the most prolific artist you have never heard of. He has published 22 books, countless short stories, poetry, and plays. In his spare time, he is a musician with several CDs to his credit as well as being an accomplished painter.

Largely (and shamefully) ignored in his native United States, he has a cult following in Europe, particularly in France and, most recently, in Germany where his novel, Amerigone (his 22nd book and most recent) has topped the charts in the genre of noire and crime fiction. His writing has appeared in England, France, Italy, and now Germany, and he has garnered rave reviews for his unique voice and satiric vision.

His books have been revived in translation (French, Italian, German), and the original English editions are becoming increasingly harder to find. If you are lucky enough to find a first edition, hang on to it, not just for profit or posterity, but because you will discover a gem of a writer, one who deserves the finest of accolades.

Yet SaFranko, a uniquely American voice, seems to have found no favor among the very countrymen whose lives he is darkly critiquing and celebrating. His novel, Hating Olivia: A Love Story, originally published in England, was finally picked up by Harper Perennial in the U.S., only to see printing discontinued and others of his works ignored. All of this can be attributed to several factors: theme, content, and marketability.

First off, theme and content: Hating Olivia is a story about obsessive love, pain, and longing, written in such a way that the reader is both aroused and shaken by this story of a young writer’s love affair with a woman who nearly destroys him and he her. It is not a story with a happy ending nor one that is “politically correct” in its depiction of women; rather, it is one of lust that at times borders on depravity (and what type of good sex doesn’t?), uncensored in its emotions. It is a magnificent work, powerful, compelling, and unforgettable. No wonder that the translated French title is Putain D’Olivia.

Which brings us to marketability: Hating Olivia features a protagonist, Max Zajack, who is an aspiring writer, inspired by Celine, Henry Miller, Patricia Highsmith, and Georges Simenon, all outlaws in their own way. Max’s despair about having the American Dream of success forced down his throat leads to his unleashing a vicious satire upon the Reagan Years and what the U.S. had become after the death of the ’60s and ’70s: the chasing after wealth and status, all while forfeiting ideals and human goodness. The paradox of Max’s character is that he is both deceitful and mean, yet we are also attracted to him because at his core he is an artist who wants to write about life with the passion Miller did but knows that this idealism has no place in modern America. He is tragic, and how marketable is a tragic figure who, in a sense, bites the hand that feeds him: the American literary establishment that feeds its pap to the reading public?

The saga of Max Zajack continues in several other novels, where Max becomes a semi-successful cog in the corporate wheel, making lots of money while bedding a multitude of women, forgetting his very ideals until he becomes painfully aware of his loss of soul. He even strikes out to become a Hollywood script writer, ending his stint in failure and despair, although SaFranko’s black humor always finds a way to mitigate the horror of his life. The best of the Zajack books (in this critic’s opinion) is God Bless America, the Early Years of Max Zajack, that chronicles his youth growing up in an immigrant family, alternately hilarious, heart-breaking, and grim. Think Charles Bukowski’s Ham on Rye, only better.

Even in many of his short stories and his crime fiction, SaFranko remains the quintessential satirist. At his very best, he holds up a mirror to a society that is infected with material values where every shred of human decency has been eroded by the blind drive for success and staged comfort: America as it was back then and is even more so now in the post-Trump (or, is it pre-Trump- again?) era.

His fiction serves as a moral compass for much that is wrong with how we treat the individual who dares to be different and out of step with the perceived and accepted norms. No wonder that the literary establishment is afraid of him because he takes readers out of their comfort zone and shakes them to the very core of their being.

Mark SaFranko is one bad-ass writer; he is rough, raw, uncompromising, and, above all, honest. His works will leave a bad taste, but they will also linger, leaving you wanting more, knowing that you are witness to the shock of words that stumble toward some unrequited redemption.

To explore the works of this writer, here is the link to his official website. https://marksafranko.com/ . Some of his books are available on Amazon in English, others in French, Italian, and German.

1 Comment on Rants of a Grumpy Old Man: Celebrating Mark SaFranko

  1. You’re right, I’ve never heard of him, but it sounds great (bad-ass!) and I’m going to look for his books now.

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