Saturday, April 21, 2012

Goodis the great

Some of the borders I've crossed recently have been ones of time, into American crime writing of the 1940s and '50s.

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."
***
Mingle with Goodis-heads and noir fans this Nov. 8-11 at Noircon 2012 in Philadelphia.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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15 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

Well, if there is any comparison between Ken Bruen and Goodis, I expect I'd like him.

April 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bruen has rhapsodized about Goodis, but I've been more interested in comparing with Goodis with other authors of his own time. The concerns and milieux are similar, but Goodis just digs deeper and is more melodramatic without going over the top. But I caution that I am still fairly new to Goodis, so anything I say now is subject to revision next week or next month.

April 21, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Right--I can see that this would be interesting. For me, I just really like Bruen's humor and would be happy to think that a literary forebearsa might offer similar kinds of enjoyment.

April 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Goodis is not known primarly for his humor. One or two of the speakers at Thursday's program had numbered a sense of humor among his qualities, but I had not much noticed this until reading Dark Passage. (Though one of my fellow readers at the Goodis graveside ceremony a few years ago read two humorous passages from other books.)

April 22, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Cassidy's Girl is a pretty good one.

April 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read Cassidy'y Girl recently and liked it.

Just yesterday, though, I read an assessment of Dark Passage that ranked that book between (and I forget the precise words the assessor used) the artistry of Down There and the hack work of Cassidy's Girl.

April 22, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

One man's hack work is another man's gold. Conan Doyle always thought he'd be remembered for his serious novels not the hack work of Sherlock Holmes.

The difficulty comes when sorting the good hack work from the shitty hack work. Philip K Dick and Jim Thompson for example wrote many fast hack jobs and some of those books are completely brilliant and some are unreadable rubbish. Its really interesting to read a couple of PKD or JT novels that were written a few weeks or months apart and yet they seem to have been done by a completely different writer.

April 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To be fair, the denigration of Cassidy's Girl was a passing remark in a discussion of another book. I don't think the writer explained why he had said what he did. I've read Cassidy's Girl and Dark Passage; now I'll have to read Down There so I can triangulate.

I will say that a few passages in Dark Passage struck me as more self-consciously literary than anything I remember from Cassidy's Girl. Except for a couple of examples toward the end of the novel, they worked. And, without knowing anything but the barest outline of Goodis' biography, I'd guess that years of hackwork were a hell of a laboratory for him to develop that style.

April 22, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"I like Bruno Fischer and Fletcher Flora a little better than I like Day Keene. But none was as good as David Goodis."

Ditto. I absolutely loved "We Are All Dead." Love to wallow in that melodrama with that dab of romanticism. I come away from stories like that feeling a bit the way I do from watching the last scene in the tragic ballets Swan Lake and Giselle, both tales of betrayal (and redemption). Goodis (and Guthrie) stays with me (I can't get The Plunge out of my head); Bruen I forget after I close the cover. Kinda like this exchange in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer:

Woman: "Now there's a guy who never goes out of a girl's mind. He just stays there...like a heavy meal."

Man: "Oh, yeah? Then what am I like?"

Woman: "Orange juice."

And please put Fletcher's Park Avenue Tramp on your TBR list. I think you will like his mesmerizing tone in this one. I think it qualifies as noir but I've never read another noir quite like it.

April 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fischer and Flora are reminders that the name melodrama did not always deserve the sneer of condescension it gets today. I have more Day Keene on my list(To Kiss, or Kill) and also Craig Rice, Richard S. Prather and Fredric Brown.

And thanks for suggesting Park Avenue Tramp. I like the title.

April 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"He just stays there...like a heavy meal."

Hmm. I'm not that sure I'd want to hear that -- and that's whyt he line is so good.

April 23, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

And to think she was referring to Cary Grant! That's just one of many funny bits in the film; it won an Oscar for best screenplay. Love the look on Grant's face when, whiskey in hand, settling down to read a good book, teenage Shirley Temple wakes up on the sofa across from him ("Hi, Dickie") just as the radio announcer says: "...And that sensational swoon tune 'Fast Ride in a Patrol Wagon.'"

April 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a pretty racy line. And did you see who wrote the screenplay?

April 24, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Yes. Isn't that a hoot?!

April 24, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The man must have made a few dollars for himself. I'm sure not many people have used Academy Awards as steppingstones to their real jobs.

April 24, 2012  

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