Friday, April 05, 2013

The copy editor inside me

I'm about halfway through The Killer Inside Me, and I can now state with some confidence that Pop. 1280 is Jim Thompson's best book.

There's nothing wrong with Killer's narrator/protagonist, the notorious Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford, or the depravity and calculating intelligence that lie beneath his boring exterior—nothing, that is, except that he's no Nick Corey, the less-celebrated but greater protagonist of Pop. 1280.

I haven't finished reading The Killer Inside Me yet. But I do have a few thoughts:

1) Is the horrifying beating scene in the 2010 movie version of Killer too much? The very existence of the controversy may answer the question. The corresponding scene in the book is, indeed, horrifying, but it is nowhere near as graphic or as central to the novel as the discussion and promotion surrounding the scene are to the movie.

In Thompson's world, deadpan humor, intense self-examination on the protagonist's part, and criticism of all manner of social hypocrisy are more central to the story than sex is. The Killer Inside Me is the study of a psychotic man. It's not a sex book, despite its sexual frankness and gleeful profanity. All it takes is comparison of the three editions of the novel shown at the top of this post with the cover of a movie tie-in edition (left) and, especially, with a poster from the movie itself (right) to illustrate that the filmmakers, producers, and promoters had a vision different from Thompson's.

2) Back in January 2012, I jocosely pointed out a grammatical error in a Cole Porter song. "One of those bells that now and then rings," I wrote, should be "One of those bells that now and then ring." (Porter, of course, writing to the dictates of rhyme and music, was exempt from rules of formal prose. Besides, he was Cole Porter.)

Well, some readers didn't get it, expressing benign condescension or amused  exasperation at what they imagined was my error.

Thompson, on the other hand, has Ford tell us at one point that
 "It’s one of those things that are so plain and simple you don’t see ’em."
This alcohol-sodden hack, banging out his novels on a manual typewriter in the bathroom, in other words, writing a book full of Southern dialect pronunciation, nonetheless recognized a plural subject ("those things") and knew that such a subject takes a plural verb ("are"). As I like to imagine the deceptively shambling but, in fact, highly intelligent, literate Lou Ford saying, "Just parsing through, ma'am."

I am pleased to enshrine Thompson alongside Dashiell Hammett as a copy editor's friend. Good grammar is nothing to be ashamed of. Even tough guys do it.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

30 Comments:

Blogger Jerry House said...

Do the characters themselves always have to speak proper grammar? As a copy editor you should know that ungrammatical speech is a sure-fire indicator of a psychopathic personality -- whether in fiction or in real life.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Of course the characters don't have to use proper grammar; I'd acknowledged as much only this week in a discussion somewhere.

And please--as a copy editor, I have my own ideas what ungrammatical speech indicates, but I'd best not commit those ideas to writing.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

" and I can now state with some confidence that Pop. 1280 is Jim Thompson's best book."

Glad you agree with me, Peter. You might also find you'll agree with me that 'Hell of a Woman' is his second-best book
(Both books were adapted into highly creditable films, by French directors: 'Serie Noire' is the 'Hell of a Woman' adaptation)

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hell of a Woman is likely next up on my Thompson reading list.

Even though I have now read just over four Thomson novels, I made my bold declaration because that small group includes the four novels I saw variously cited as Thompson's best in my recent Thompson reading: Pop. 1280, The Killer Inside Me, Savage Night, and The Getaway. As much as I found to like in the latter three, Pop. 1280 is clearly of a different order.

See if you can read Daniel Woodrell's foreword to the e-book edition on Barnes and Noble's or Amazin's "look inside this book" feature. I think he's right.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Amazon's, that is. I intend no parallel to the New York Mets.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've read those, and 'The Grifters', 'After Dark, My Sweet' 'The Kill-Off' and 'South of Heaven', also.

The first three were all made into Hollywood films: 'The Kill-Off' is the best of them; made, I think, by a debutant director.
There is much to admire in the film of 'The Grifters' but the 'sting' is too close to the light touch of 'The Sting' film, for my tastes.

April 05, 2013  
Anonymous Dashiell Hamekin said...

MAYBE THIS IS LIKE A TRIPLE NEGATIVE -- IT'S SO WRONG THAT IT WINDS UP BEING RIGHT BY ACCIDENT

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, maybe the sting was light because the screenplay was written by Donald E. Westlake, who knew a thing or two about comic crime.

I tried to read The Grifters within the last year or two but was put off by its clunky prose. That's one reason Pop. 1280 was such a revelation.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nope, Dash, this was right in the good, old-fashioned way.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've been catching up on Cornell Woolrich lately. I was prompted by his Library of America novel, 'I Married A Dead Man' to read 'Waltz Into Darkness'.
Most reviewers thought it a poor novel, but I loved it, mostly for his obvious affection for his amoral heroine, and a wonderfully suspenseful - even if somewhat over-elaborated - climactic chapter.
I also loved the sense of place, and its period background

Which then prompted me to order three lesser-known novels of his, as well as an anthology of his short stories.
Woolrich seems to be a gap in your education, also

April 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

You could be right about Westlake, Peter.
I think I've only read one of his novels: as far as I can recall, I enjoyed it, without being overwhelmed by it

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Woolrich is a gap in my education, yes. I've read just "It Had to Be Murder" and "Three O'Clock" (whose title was changed to Four O'Clock for several of its television adaptations. That might might make it a relative to my recent post about odd name changes.)

"It Had to Be Murder" suffered from the inevitable comparison to Hitchcock's adaptation of it into Rear Window. Maybe I'll try to reread it with fresh eyes.

"Three O'Clock" drove the tension higher than anything else I have ever read. If I make a habit of reading Thompson and Woolrich before bed, I may never sleep again and if I do, I'll probably have haunted dreams.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Last time I counted, I had read forty-five or fifty Westlakes (less htan half of what he wrote). I probably like the best of Parker novels best from his large output, but some of his comic novels and stories are good, too. He is said to have invented the comic caper novel.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think it was 'Bank Shot': probably because I'd just seen the film version.
This 'Nightwebs' anthology I'm currently reading might be a good place to revive your interest in Woolrich. Of the four stories I've read so far I especially loved 'Graves For The Living' - which I suspect he wrote with a malicious grin on his face - and 'Dusk to Dawn'.

Both 'Three O'Clock' and 'Rear Window' are included in the same anthology as 'Waltz Into Darkness'.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have been unable to find the film version of The Bank Shot, though I quite liked the book. That compassion for struggling small towns is always there in Westlake's comic novels and in some of his others as well.

Thanks for thge recommendation on the Woolrich anthology.

April 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

...and I'll check out more Westlake, although I don't tend to like too much lightness in my crime novels: the balance that Chester Himes strikes is probably closest to my ideals, I think

April 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, you might try The Score, The Hunter, or Butcher's Moon, all of which he wrote under the Richard Stark name as part of the Parker series.

April 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Cheers, Peter: I'll check them out. And glad to see you sent that 'interloper' packing - whether to Sydney, or wherever.
It wouldn't be 'Group Four' who've been handling security duties, by any chance, would it?

April 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, &*&*^. WHo knows? I might visit Sydney some day, but not via Spam Air.

April 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I see he wrote 'Point Blank' and 'The Outfit', as Richard Stark: pretty decent films, especially John Boorman's film of the former. Lee Marvin's most iconic performance for me particularly the scene of him striding down a corridor

April 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The book is better than the movie! You might want to investigate the new collection of short stories called Lee, inspired by Lee Marvin, published, oddly enough, in Australia.

April 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm scouring various Amazons and other online stores, right now, for good second-hand deals. It would appear - judging by the high prices - that there may have been a wholesale reissue of most, if not all, of the Parker series recently.

I might have to put some - if not all - of your recommendations on the proverbial long finger, although not for long, I hope.

And to think I only now discovered that Parker is a criminal: I think I may have been confusing him with 'Spenser'

April 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, 'The Hunter' would have to be really special to top 'Point Blank': that's one of my all-time fave crime movies.
I always meant to get me a suit, and shirt, like Lee's
and stride down a similar corridor
(now that's fandom!)

April 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The University of Chicago Press is reissuing all the Parker novels is handsome trade paperback editions with new introductions by leading crime writers. I had read most of the books already, but the reissue of Butcher's Moon was welcome. I had not found a copy available for less than $75. Thye wait was worth it.

Point Blank is generally acknowledge to be the best of the Parker movies, so I would not think it strange that anyone might like the movie better. Still, try the book, too. And you should definitely look into Lee.

April 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've found a 'Flashfire' and 'The Hunter' - re-titled as 'Point Blank'- for a combined €6.86, so they'll be my jumping off points.
I'm particularly looking forward to reading 'Point Blank'

April 06, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Donald E Westlake wrote the screenplay for The Sting? Shurely shome mishtake . . .

April 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

...or was it 'The Grifters', Alan?

April 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right: Westlake wrote the Grifters screenplay, although he was certainly established as a crime writer when The Sting was made. David Ward, previously unknown to me, wrote The Sting.

TCK: The salient fact about the Parker novels is that Westlake/Stark wrote a book or more a year from 1962 through 1974, took 23 years off, then resumes the series in 1997. (The first book in Parker's comeback is called Comeback.)

I generally like the pre-comeback books better, though not everyone agrees. My favorites are The Score, Butcher's Moon, The Hunter, and The Outfit. Thje sxcellent Violent World of Parker Web site, which you'll find listed on my blog roll, keeps you abreast of all news and information on Westlake. Its evaluations of the Parker novels are reliable, and you may safely use them as a reading guide.

April 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'd tend to be a bit sceptical about 'comeback' books, particularly after such a gap, but 'Flashfire', at €2.86, was probably worth a punt; and should be interesting to compare and contrast with the earlier book, if nothing else

April 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Flashfire is also the basis of the recent movie Parker.

April 06, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home