Goodis the great
Based on my first readings of all three authors, I like Bruno Fischer and Fletcher Flora a little better than I like Day Keene. But none was as good as David Goodis.
I'd read some Goodis before, the short story "Black Pudding" and the 1951 best-seller Cassidy's Girl, and I'd been impressed, notably by the heart-breaking compassion he mustered for his characters. But Dark Passage (1946) is, in its opening chapters, even better, a knockout of a book.
I'll likely have more to say later, but for now it's interesting to view the novel as an argument for the old proposition that the way to become a good writer is to write, and write, and write. Dark Passage was Goodis' second novel, and it appeared seven years after his first. In between, Goodis wrote prodigiously for pulp magazines, more than five million words in five years in the early 1940s, according to his own estimate. (See Robert Polito's notes to David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 1950s.)
The result may not tug at the heartstrings quite as hard as some of Goodis' later works do, but it is self-consciously stylish without going over the top, a difficult feat for any writer, much less one not yet thirty years old. The book's first chapters are full of words repeated to amusing effect. And if you like how Ken Bruen and Allan Guthrie use humor at dark moments and somehow make it seem right, you'll find the roots of the practice in protagonist Vincent Parry's conversation with the taxi driver in Chapter Seven.
But first, my favorite line of the book so far, tough, naive, funny and touching at the same time:
"Being good to people sounds nice but it's hard work."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012