Friday, July 06, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, July 6, 2018

 THE BLONDE ON THE STREET CORNER, David Goodis (reviewed by Mike Dennis-from the archives)

Ralph stood on the corner, leaning against the brick wall of Silver's candy store, telling himself to go home and get some sleep."

That's the opening line of The Blonde On The Street Corner, a 1954 novel written by David Goodis. Of course, Ralph doesn't go home. Instead, he spots a blonde across the dark street and gawks at her. She eventually calls him over to light her cigarette, which he does.

Now, at this point, one might expect that Ralph would be irresistibly lured into a tight web spun by this dazzling femme fatale, resulting in his eventual moral destruction, if not death. But Goodis doesn't write that way. In fact, the blonde is fat, sharp-tongued, and lives in the neighborhood. Ralph knows her, and knows that she's married. She propositions him right on the corner, but he rejects her. "I don't mess around with married women," he tells her. Then he goes home.

Much to the reader's surprise, this encounter does not trigger the plot of the novel. In fact, it would be right to say that the novel has no plot, in the usual sense. Ralph returns to his impoverished Philadelphia home, where he lives with his parents, and spends the rest of the book wallowing in misery with his friends, all of whom are in the same boat as he: in their thirties, usually unemployed, and filled with unrealistic dreams. One of his friends says he is a "songwriter", but no one has ever recorded any of his songs. Another wants to be a big-league baseball player, but lasted only a week on a class D minor league team. They spend most of their time leaning up against buildings, wearing only thin coats against the bitter Philadelphia winter, and wishing they had more money. They talk a good deal about going to Florida, where they can get jobs as bellmen in a "big-time hotel", convinced this would jump-start their desperate lives.

The book goes on like this pretty much all the way through, with no moving story line, but it's Goodis' prose that keeps you riveted to the page. No one can paint a picture of a hopeless world better than he can. For Goodis, Philadelphia is a desolate place, whose bleak streets offer little in the way of promise. Many of his novels were set there, and they all shared that common trait. Life in that city is, for him and his characters, usually an exercise in futility. These are people who walk around with twenty or thirty cents in their pockets, who cold-call girls out of the phone book asking for dates, and for whom escape to Florida is always right around the corner. The finale provides the mortal body blow to Ralph, stripping him of the last shred of his dignity.

The Blonde On The Street Corner is a potent novel, filled with the passions and despair of its characters. All through this book, you find yourself longing to run into characters whose lives mean something. Then, you realize there aren't any.

Yvette Banek, BEHOLD, HERE'S POISON, Georgette Heyer
Les Blatt, THE LINKING RINGS, John Gaspard
Brian Busby, STRANGE DESIRES, Alan Malston
CrossExaminingCrime, PAUL TEMPLE AND THE KELBY AFFAIR, Francis Durbridge
Martin Edwards, GAME FOR THREE LOSERS, Edgar Lustgarten
Richard Horton, WARLOCK, Jim Harrison
Jerry House, A DARKNESS IN MY SOUL, Dean R. Koontz
Margot Kinberg, INVOLUNTARY WITNESS, Gianrico Carofiglia
Rob Kitchin, BETWEEN GIANTS, Prit Buttar
B.V. Lawson, SIDEWINDER, Ed McBain
Evan Lewis, BRAIN BATS OF VENUS, Basil Wolverton
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, CONCRETE HERO, Rob Kantner
Todd Mason,  MEFISTO IN ONYX by Harlan Ellison); HARLAN ELLISON'S WATCHING (Underwood-Miller 1989)
J.F. Norris, DEATH WISHES, Philip Loraine
Matt Paust, The Case of the Marvelous Mason Machine, Erle Stanley Gardner
James Reasoner, SIDEWINDER, Jack Slade
Richard Robinson,  Worldmakers: SF Adventures in Terraforming, ed. Gardner Dozois               Gerard Saylor, THE BRIDGE OF SIGHS, Olen Steinhaue; YOU WILL KNOW ME, Megan Abbott Kevin Tipple, THE DARK ANGEL, Elly Griffiths TomCat, BROUGHT TO LIGHT, E. R. Punshon
TracyK, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, Patricia Highsmith


Jerry House said...

The hurrieder I go the behinder I get.

Mine will up later today, Patti. A DARKNESS IN MY SOUL, an early SF novel by Dean Koontz.

pattinase (abbott) said...

No hurry, Jerry.

Yvette said...

My post is up and running, Patti. NOT as late as usual. :)

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

While I'm even later than usual. Sleep and the writing will take us where they will, at times. Certainly they will do so to me.

J F Norris said...

Just hit the publish button:

Death Wishes by Philip Loraine

pattinase (abbott) said...

Not seeing anything, Todd.

Todd Mason said...

Finally up, though still getting added to. Thanks.

Jerry House said...

Up now, Patti. Thanks for your ever-gracious patience.

Gerard Saylor said...

Great review by Mike Dennis.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sorry, Yvette. I missed yours until now.

Chris said...

It's actually not all that dark for Goodis. Nobody gets killed. Nobody goes to jail. The 'hero' has a pretty decent, if poor, family.

It's not really a crime novel, let alone a mystery. It's social realism, marketed as genre. I imagine the publisher was pretty cheesed, but it was short, and they could sell it with the Goodis name, and sex.

What's not generally known about Goodis (though one could infer) was that he had some pretty serious sexual fetishes. He liked (shall we say) curvy women, but his marriage to one (Jewish, like him) ended very badly, and he never really got over it.

He dated black women a lot, but never brought one home to meet the family. A lot of one-night stands, but he had a long-term relationship with Selma Burke, the African American sculptress, who designed the portrait of FDR that is still on the dime. She carried a torch for him to the end. (I'm not kidding. You can look this stuff up. A French guy wrote a biography. The English language edition is out of print and not evailable. Naturally.)

So the reason there are almost no happy endings to Goodis love stories is that none of his own love stories ever ended happily, and that was mostly his fault. He was hopelessly conflicted between what he wanted and what he thought he should want. That's part of what this novel is getting at, indirectly. He thinks he should be with the nice girl. But he wants the bad girl, who comes with fewer strings attached. And he doesn't feel like he'll ever be ready for marriage, even if (as was definitely the case with Goodis, who left a considerable fortune when he died) money is not an issue.

His writing is fascinating, but I have to say, it's sometimes even more interesting to read about him--or look for him between the lines of his pulsating prose.

Mike Dennis said...

I had forgotten about this review, Patti. Thanks for digging it up.