Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Breakout!

A recent discussion of Horace McCoy's 1948 novel Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye blurbs the novel thus:
"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is narrated by Ralph Cotter, a hardened convict who’s serving time, and when we meet  him, he’s just about to break out of jail with fellow prisoner Toko."
I took special note because I'm reading Charles Runyon's 1963 novel Color Him Dead, which begins with a prologue from the point of view of Drew Simmons, a hardened convict who's serving time and who, when we meet him, is just about to break out of jail.

Prison breaks have long been a staple of crime fiction and film. Did something about postwar America inspire fantasies of breaking out and away?

(Read an interview with Charles Runyon. And browse a Web site devoted to Gold Medal Books, publisher of Color Him Dead and countless now-classic paperback originals.)

 © Peter Rozovsky 2012

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4 Comments:

Anonymous solo said...

I've come across His Futile Preoccupations before. I liked that his review of 1222 by Anne Holt provided the information that the publisher, through Netgalley, had given him a free copy of the book to review. Full disclosure, by a blogger. Wonders will never cease.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is a wonderful title. I haven't read the book, but the following passage is rather striking:

We all had a touch of twilight in our souls; in every man there are homosexual tendencies, this is immutable, there is no variant, the only variant is the depth of the latency, but in me these tendencies were not being stirred, even faintly, they were there, but this was not stirring them. No. The sameness was of the species, of the psyche, of the... They were rebels too, rebels introverted; I was a rebel extroverted–theirs was the force that did not kill, mine was the force that did kill…

It might be argued that this is the character talking. I doubt that. It sounds to me much more like the writer talking and simply parroting the bizarre views of the psychology of his day. According to that profession every male was a latent homosexual. Isn't that weird?

The movie version from 1950 has Jimmy Cagney doing a wonderful job of hiding his latent homosexuality but sadly failing to show the exciting incestuous feelings towards his mother that he pulled off so well in the previous year's White Heat, a far better film.

I don't know about prison escapes, Peter. But the 50s in America were a period when peculiar psychological theories reached a peak that was only matched by the brassieres of the day.

May 08, 2012  
Anonymous aaron said...

Peter,

I would guess that the desire to escape is more universal than simply post-war malaise. From the Count of Monte Cristo up to the Shawshank Redemption, the dreams of escape and its counter in the prisons that we choose to live inside seem a fundamental aspect of the human condition in existential terms. Possibly the war exacerbated such feelings, but it seems to me that everyone has a prison that he or she would love to be freed from...but sometimes the walls are safe and comforting at the same time.

May 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aaron, I had one of those precedents in mind when you write this post. What I wonder is whether post-war America offered new possibilites for escape fantasies, whether from soulless suburbs or cities in which one has been left behind by flight to those suburbs, and so on -- new avenues for expressing ancient dreams, one might say. I'm not up enough on my popular culture to guess whether escape stories have varied in popularity over the centuries and what mught lie behind any such popularity swings.

May 08, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo: I, too, have noted that blog's disclosures. While we're on the subject, here's some similarly full disclosure: I paid for my own copy of 1222. Also my own copies of The Devotion of Suspect X, Color Him Dead, Park Avenue Tramp, The Sleeper Caper, To Kiss or Kill, and many more. Since I pay for most of my own books, and since I write few reviews, and since I occasionally pass harsh judgment on those I do review, I've never felt contrained to include such disclosure announcements. But I'd say there's a greater need for full disclosure on Amazon reviews than there is on traditional ones. "I have not read the book" or "I am related to the author's agent" or "The author once had verbal fun at my expense at a reading" or "I am mentally unbalanced. filled with bile, and possessed of a tendency to compulsive behavior" could serve as examples of the sort of thing that would put Amazon reviews in proper perpective for Web surfers and potential buyers.

I read my bit of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in an online sample that did not include the excerpt you quoted but did include a reference to "a sickly sodomist" whom the narrator/protagonist vows to kill, though he does not act with especial hostility or violence toward him. On the matter of whether the passage you quote is author talking or character, I've found myself wondering why many paperback originals seem to be written in first person or close third. My first guess is that the authors banged the books out quickly so chose the voices in which it was easiest to write.

As for peculiar psychological theories of the 1950s in America, I wrote a few weeks ago:

"Are the 1950s the most luridly masochistic, twisted, self-obsessed, self-voyeuristic decade in American history? Based on the period's crime fiction, yep."

May 09, 2012  

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