Friday, October 30, 2009

“David Goodis is my favorite writer though I hardly know why.” by Mark Athitakis

A nice thing to stumble over: For about a month now Lou Boxer has been keeping a blog dedicated to the life and work of crime novelist David Goodis. It’s a worthy project, and Boxer is the right person to do it (he helped put together Goodiscon, a festival dedicated to Goodis’ work, and his research was helpful when I was working on an a piece on some Goodis reissues a couple of years back). The Writer in the Gutter is a little all over the place, stuffed as it is with photos, pulp-magazine covers, essays, and some overly enthusiastic use of the highlight tag. But it seems determined to capture a lot of elements of Goodis’ life—personal, literary, and potboiling—and it includes Robert Polito’s fine introduction to The Street of No Return reissue, which helps explain why he’s worth all this obsession:

David Goodis (1917-1967) appears to be the figure always most in need of reclamation, his books drifting out of print, his status shadowy, ever elusive…. [S]entence-by-sentence, I would argue, Goodis is our most crafty and elegant crime stylist. Noir is characteristically a language of objects, places, and names, an idiom that in a few bluff words summons worlds. Listen to the opening sentence of Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice: “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me: “I’d finished my pie and was having a second cup of coffee when I saw him.” William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley: “Stan Carlisle stood well back from the entrance of the canvas enclosure, under the blaze of a naked light bulb, and watched the geek.” But noir language just as distinctively proceeds by chipping away at the world and itself until there’s only a vanishing distress signal from a void. Early on in Dark Passage (1946) Goodis advanced a vernacular prose of rococo repeated phrases that limn, then all but erase his characters.

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