Thursday, December 29, 2011
Forgotten Books: Black Friday by David Goodis
"In fact, the craftsmanship (David Goodis) mastered in all those years of turning out fiction for the pulps was sometimes all that salvaged his books from a morass of aberrant psychology and obsession." --James Sallis
Black Friday is proof absolute of Sallis' comment. It's a crime novel only by default. Here we have the typical Goodis loser loner protagonist, this time named Hart who is on the run from a murder charge. Through a cosmic coincidence he is taken in by a murderous big time burglar named Charley. And his gang.
The story arc deals with a pending huge burglary of fine art and jewelry that Hart will be allowed to join in if he can prove to Charley that he is a "professional"--i.e. a man who never kills for passion but only for money. Loopy at this measure is Goodis makes it go.
But please don't confuse this heist with the book's real import. I remember reading a lot of August Strindberg in my college days as a wanna-be playwright. Goodis has pulled a Strindberg. What a feckless loveless hopeless cast of oddballs and freaks he offers us.
The gang doesn't like Hart so we have scenes of frequent intimidation except for the gangster who starts to like Hart because Hart finds the man's artistic skills impressive (or claims he does), Then there's Freida the obese sad crazed dangerous vamp of Goodisworld. Repellent as he finds her he has to sleep with her because she needs the kind of sex her man Charley can't deliver. He's impotent most of the time. Hart is using her--he literally grimaces when he touches her--but she falls in love with him and Charley figures it out. Charley is not happy.
Then there's Myrna the forlorn faded woman whose brother Paul Hart killed because he seemingly had no choice. She despises Hart at first but eventually they come together. The interplay of all these relationships accounts for seventy-five, maybe eighty per cent of the novel. I couldn't stop flipping the pages though several times I wanted to. This is the only book I've ever read that makes Orwell's Down and Out In Paris and London read like a B'way musical. It's past grim. It's a violent ward of wanton treachery and despair.
It's as close to Grand Guignol as crime fiction gets.