Sunday, January 08, 2012

David Goodis on drinking

Its plot wanders, and some of its dialogue is wooden, but these two bits of high melodrama from David Goodis' 1951 novel Cassidy's Girl are worth the price of admission:
"She sat there with an empty glass in front of her. She was looking at the glass as though it were the page of a book and she were reading a story."
and
"`You're young and you're little and it's a shame.'
“`What's a shame?'

“`Drinking. You shouldn't drink like that.” He raised his hand slowly and tried to form it into a fist so he could hit it on the table. His hand fell limply against the table and he said, `You want a drink?'”
Heartbeaking, and good evidence for the proposition that compassion is an essential ingredient of noir.
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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17 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

"compassion is an essential ingredient of noir".

Absolutely. If there is no compassion in a noir story, how is the reader supposed to feel the impact of the inevitable?

This is one of my major complaints with neo-noir. It revels in the grotesque, and the characters' attitudes are as cold as the circumstances. How are we supposed to empathize with someone in the story if no one else does, or if he cannot for another?

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right -- unless the author is such a surgically precise wielder of prose that he can make the reader reflect on that lack of empathy.

And, yikes, how can one define neo-noir if noir itself is so difficult to pin down -- or rather, is so carelessly applied?

One reason I like Allan Guthrie ia that his grotesquerie is anything but cold -- something the otherwise excellent Eddie Muller misses in his criticism of Githrie's Hard Man.

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

You could write a post called David Goodis on _______ and I'd lap it up. Gelatin molds, capybaras --anything, really.

As compassion and noir go, I think there's no beating Woolrich, though.

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You should come to Philadelphia for Noircon 2012, then. I've read just two of Woolrich's stories, none of his novels. I associate him with tightening the screws better than any other crime writer ever had, but not so much with compassion. Any suggestions for further reading?

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Noircon? I'll look into it.

Without knowing which Woolrich you've read, I recommend I Married a Dead Man, The Bride Wore Black and maybe Rendezvous in Black. Rear Window and Other Stories is a good collection. Maybe the compassion bit is just me --it's hard to separate the man from his work, and his story is pretty heartstring-tugging. All three of the novels I named, though, rather require the reader to give a damn about the protaganists while they do some rather bad things.

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s the Noircon Website. I did not join the Goodis day entourage this year, but I was there a couple of years ago, reading from “Black Pudding” by Goodis’ graveside.

I’ve read “It Had to Be Murder,” but that probably attracted my attention most for the astonishing liberties Hitchcock took with the story when he made Rear Window. I’ve also read the amazing “Three O’Clock.” Compassion is hardly the first word that comes to mind when I think of that story!

January 08, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I’ve also read the amazing “Three O’Clock.” Compassion is hardly the first word that comes to mind when I think of that story!

I assume you've seen the Hictchcock version of that story. It's a pity Hitchcock didn't adapt Wooolrich more often. Those two masters of suspence belonged together.

January 08, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Incidentally, Peter, does the fact that those Goodis books are set in your own stamping ground add or detract from your enjoyment of them?

I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that the familiarity of the setting puts me off reading most Irish novels. One Declan Hughes book has its opening chapter set in Tolka Park football ground. I went to school within spitting distance of that place. I still live not much more than a mile from it. Such familiarity with the setting soured me on reading the book. My fault, of course, not the writer's.

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, I didn't know Hitchcock had adapted the story. It appears that the version on Hitchcock's TV series was called "Four O'Clock" for some reason.

They mau have belonged together, but Hitchcock's additions to Woolrich's story in Rear Window are pretty radical. The suspense remains, though.

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I get a kick out of Goodis' locations, especially since areas he describes as tenderloins or shabby waterfronts or busy shipping areas are so radically different fifty or sixty years on.

One can still see faded ghosts of the waterfront setting of Cassidy's Girl.

January 08, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I don't know why they changed the name of the story to Four O'Clock, but it makes little difference.

The production values (what a lousy term) are poor even by 1950s TV standards and it takes an age to get going but the climax is as suspensful a thing as Hitchcock has ever done and he owes most of it to Woolrich.

Nobody, not even Hitchcock, can make a clock tick louder than Woolrich.

If you're curious, you can see the climax here. .

January 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The tension in the story is almost unbearable, like nothing else I have read. The TV program has much to live up to.

January 08, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Heartbeaking, and good evidence for the proposition that compassion is an essential ingredient of noir.

Read the Serpent's Tail reprint of Goodis's Of Tender Sin (1952) and his short story, "The Plunge," (1958), this past weekend. Heartbreaking, compassionate, somber, and to borrow a word that appears often in his despairing, despondent work: tenderness. I can't think of any other writer of such bleak crime fiction that manages to excavate such dark, bitter, and ugly aspects of the human condition with such profound compassion and sweet tenderness. Was moved to tears at the end.

areas [Goodis] describes as tenderloins or shabby waterfronts or busy shipping areas are so radically different fifty or sixty years on

Or vice versa. Ex., Chestnut St. in 1952 vs. 2012.

January 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's hard not to be moved to tears when reading some of Goodis. Front Street still contains, or did a very few years ago, faded remains of what may have been ship chandler's shops and the like. Such locales are especially prominent in Cassidy's Girl.

There's a good bit of compassion in some of Ken Bruen's work and in Allan Guthrie's as well.

January 17, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Yes, Allan Guthrie is the contemporary hard-boiled crime writer I've read whose compassion and empathy for his characters, without any sentimentality, most reminds me of Goodis.

January 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Guthrie offers more laughs than Goodis did, but I think your joining of the two names is apt.

January 17, 2012  
Anonymous Caleb J. Ross said...

@Dana King: I'd be interested to know how you define neo-noir. I'm not attacking your idea that neo-noir implies a character without compassion; I just am not sure I fully know the definition. I've heard it tossed around (and my own work has even been called neo-noir, though I'd further refine it as grotesque noir, yet I've never fully understood the term. I guess I've always just thought of it as more of a dystopian setting noir than anything else. Thoughts?

February 05, 2012  

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