PHILLY GOTHIC: INCEST AND ITS SHADOWS
That is the title of the chapter I have just finished.
In Of Tender Sin (1952), Goodis not only shows he can write very well about incest in a pulp paperback, but can do so with considerable depth, using not only Freud but Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Goodis’ characters are cursed by family dysfunctions, just as the Compson family is .
Tender Sin's protagonist, Al Darby, raped his sister at age 12 (she was 15). It has been festering as repressed memory, until one night he has a "shattered dream." He is about 30 now, with a good job and loving wife. He is compelled by masochistic guilt to take up with a woman whose platinum blonde hair and green eyes mirror his sister's (she is not a factor in the story, but the woman Al visits is her opposite--a masochist who begins by carving her initials in Al's chest). I think Goodis uses Hasidic folklore here.
Goodis’ shadows-of-incest novels (Of Tender Sin, Somebody’s Done For, The Moon in the Gutter, The Burglar) are a kind of Philly, and south Jersey, Gothic: incest, suicide, rape, impotence, demonic gangsters, a castrating demoness from the waste hinterlands of the Old Testament, masochism resulting from guilt and desire for infantile stupor, a lust for pain and death, and a carefully documented regional setting which has a hand and voice in the madness.
Yes it's melodrama, yes's pulp romanticism, yes it is sleazy. And it is fascinating and introspective.