Friday, April 05, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, April 5, 2012

Our friend Curt Evans reminded me that April 15 is Bill Pronzini's birthday. It is too late to designate next Friday as his day but if you've read a book of his recently enough to review it, join Curt in featuring his book. Even a short story would be a great addition. 

Forgotten Stories: from SIMPLY THE BEST MYSTERIES, edited by Janet Hutchings in 1998. This is a book I dip into from time to time for a good classic mystery short story. This week I read "The Absence of Emily" by Jack Ritchie, which won the Edgar in 1981. Ritchie was known for his vast output of short stories. In this one, we are pretty sure we know where this story is going from the first page. A man is receiving letters, phonecalls and sightings of his absent wife. We think we know what has happened but Ritchie manages to twist the end just enough to satisfy us. Not a great story but well written and evocative of the kind of stories written a generation ago.This book collects Edgar winning stories from 1954 through 1995. Most of them are more familiar than this one.

Down There by David Goodis;(Ed Gorman archive)

"Love between the ugly/is the most beautiful love of all."
--Todd Rundgren

I haven't kept up with all the Goodis mania of the past five years or so so forgive me if what I'm about to say has been said not only better but quite often as well.

To me Down There is one of Goodis' finest novels filled with all his strengths and none of his weaknesses. The world here is his natural milieu, the world of America's underclass. Yes, there are working class men and women in Harriet's Hut, the tavern in which a good share of the action happens, but most of the book centers on two people, Eddie Lynn, the strange protagonist and piano player and Lena, the strange somewhat masochistic waitress. They live on pennies.

The story is this: Eddie's brother Turley is a criminal and a criminal being sought by two killers. In defending Turley, allowing him to escape, Eddie himself becomes a target. Not until well into the novel do we learn why the killers want to "talk" to Turley. It takes almost as long to learn Eddie's personal secret, that he was once a Carnegie Hall attraction with a golden future of him. What happened?

Triffault filmed this in the sixties. Much as I like Triffault's films I was disappointed by this one. There is a purity of composition here that Triffault missed entirely. Few crime writers have the skill to vary melodrama and comedy as well as Goodis did. Even fewer have the nerve to extend set pieces the way he do

For just one example there's a scene where the two killers have captured Eddie and Lena and are taking them to find Turley. The two men, Morris and Feather, begin to argue about Feather's driving. This becomes a mean, bitchy Laurel and Hardy sequence with the heavy threat of violence. This is a kidnapping scene. The comedy isn't foreshadowed. A high risk break in mood. And it works perfectly. And it is three or four times longer than most scenes found in the paperback originals of the time.

The Todd Rundgren quote applies to many of Goodis' lovers and never more so than here. Even by Goodis standards these two people are ugly with failure, with distrust of the world, with contempt for the values most people hold dear and most of all with loathing for what they've become. Goodis breaks your heart with them, especially in the surreal scene in which they are forced to hide out. Lena touches Eddie's arm--one of the first time they have any physical contact of any kind--and it's powerfully erotic because it is charged with desperation and an inkling of trust and forgiveness.

No matter where you look you won't find a novel as unique, and as shrewdly observed (there's a long bar scene that would fit perfectly into The Iceman Cometh) as Down There. I guess it's time I need to get all caught up in this Goodis mania after all.

Sergio Angelini, SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, Richard Matheson
Joe Barone, THE PAPER MOON, Andrea Camillieri
Les Blatt, THREE AT WOLFE'S DOOR, Rex Stout
Brian Busby, THE SIXTH OF DECEMBER, Jim Lotz
Bill Crider, A REQUIEM FOR ASTOUNDING, Alva Rogers
Martin Edward, MURDER OF MY AUNT, Richard Hull
Curt Evans, DEATH AT THE BAR, Ngaio Marsh
Ed Gorman, DOWN THERE, David Goodis
Jerry House, RIO RENEGADES, Terrence Duncan
Randy Johnson, THE C-BAR STORY, Mark Baugher
George Kelley, THE DROWNER, John D. MacDonald
Margot Kinberg, THE CROSSING PLACES, Elly Griffiths
Rob Kitchin, BLOOD FROM A STONE, Donna Leon
B.V. Lawson, HARD-BOILED DAMES, edited Bernard Drew
Evan Lewis, KILL THE BOSS GOODBYE, Peter Rabe
Steve Lewis/Doug Greene THE CASTLECOURT DIAMOND CASE, Geraldine Bonner
Todd Mason, I'M DYING HERE, Damien Broderick and Rory Barnes,
J.F. Norris, I AM JONATHAN SCRIVENER Claude Houghton
James Reasoner, BLACK ANGEL, Cornell Woolrich
Richard Robinson,  THE BRAND OF THE BLACK BAT, Norman A. Daniels 
Ron Scheer, LOS CERRITOS, Getrude Atherton 
Kerrie Smith, SO MUCH BLOOD, Simon Brett
Kevin Tipple, GUN SHY, Ben Rehder
Zybahn. HARVEST HOME, Thomas Tryon


Gerard said...

I got nothing.

Casual Debris said...

Please include my review of Thomas Tryon's Harvest Home.


Casual Debris

Todd Mason said...

I like that Ed prefaces Philly's own Goodis with Philly burb guy Rundgren. Hmmm...did this have any bearing on your selection of this one, Patti?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nope. I just picked a month and year and that one turned up.