BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
The one and only David Goodis makes bleak look so good. This time out, I’m covering three of his novels, all of which are super-depressing noir. It’s not like the guy ever wrote a happy ending, so what could make this holiday season brighter than the man from Philly who reveled in the darkest corners? At least it’s not as depressing as this guy.
NIGHTFALL by David Goodis — Claustrophobic and paranoia are two terms that come to mind after reading this 1947 slice of the sunny side of life. Jim Vanning is a wanted man by detectives who claim he killed a guy in a bank robbery, where some of his compatriots absconded with $300,000. But Vanning has no clue if he was really involved or where the money is.
We find Vanning at the start of the story as a commercial artist working in New York City. Goodis puts him through a nightmarish run of events, all of which we are told through flashbacks. Vanning is still confused by it all, but a local detective has certain things sussed out, to the point he follows Vanning around and can’t believe this man could have possibly been the mastermind of running off with the stolen loot.
Recommending Goodis is a no-brainer, even when the story loses its focus at points. But that’s all forgiven, since in Goodis’ world, the bleaker, the better. And trust me: The book gets bleak. Included in the Centipede Press 2007 reprint is a great essay by Bill Pronzini, who discusses Goodis’s career. But read it only after reading the book itself, since it not only gives away the whole plot, but the twist that you won’t see coming. Closing out this edition is a bonus short story, “The Blue Sweetheart.”
OF TENDER SIN by David Goodis — Despondent and troubled sums up main character Alvin Darby in this bleak offering from 1952. To say this book is a downer is again an understatement. Alvin is a married man, but his union is not the strongest. He no longer even sleeps with his wife. And to go from that little happy moment to even darker recesses, Alvin overhears his wife on the phone with another man; Alvin’s summation is, of course, that his wife is having an affair.
Thus begins Alvin’s night of despair, where his only goal is to find a woman from his past with platinum-blonde hair. He slowly descends into his own sort of madness, paying hookers just so he can stare at them. Then he steals a knife from a pawn shop so he can exact revenge on the man he thinks is sleeping with his wife. All of this builds to the point where Alvin comes face to face with his long-lost love. Well, in his mind, he thinks he still cares for her.
The novel comes off like gangbusters from the start, but the second half sort of loses its momentum, with a whimper of an ending. Again, it’s all about the bleakness of not only Alvin’s life, but the streets of Philadelphia, which are just as dark as his soul. For those looking for a good time and some light reading, here is a book that is sure to put a spring into your step.
THE MOON IN THE GUTTER by David Goodis — Closing out this trilogy of despair is probably the lowest you can get. From 1956, it mainly takes place at a rundown dive and the docks in Philadelphia. Fans of THE WIRE’s second season will love it.
The story is rather straightforward: Dockworker William Kerrigan has been reliving his sister’s final days over and over in his mind. Her brutal raped drove her to suicide. Throughout the book, Kerrigan revisits the sites of where it all happened, thinking that one day, he will catch the guy responsible. Throw in a high-class lush who frequents the dive bar for shits and giggles, and you pretty much have the whole plot. Then throw in the drunk’s sister, whom Kerrigan falls for, and you got yourself a tale of bleakness that knows no end.
Even when the story builds up to what would seem the most logical point, Goodis pulls the rug out from everyone and twists the knife even further. This book thrives on the depression it dispenses in its quick read. That’s one thing Goodis knew how to do better than anyone else: Make every word count. I know these three books are not what you would call “fun,” but that’s the point. I’d much rather wallow in his world than some of the overrated crap that is out there.