In Somebody’s Done For, Goodis’ final, posthumously published, novel, Calvin Jander struggles with dangerous criminals, with the Delaware Bay’s dangerous waters, and with his beloved and her gun-toting, cold blooded family. The latter kind of criminal family is one of Goodis’ major recurring themes. Vera cannot leave her father, and Jander loses her. So he goes home to his own mother and sister, who have long ceased to love him, yet depend on his salary. At the beginning, he is alone in remote waters and expects to drown. At the end, he faces a death-in-life, even more alone than is Hart in at the conclusion of Black Friday, who had no place to go, and didn’t care. Jander has promised his mother he will be home soon. What possesses him?
Jump to: Eddie (Down There)--directly below Cassidy (Cassidy's Girl) The Noble Loser's failure
Eddie, the piano player Down There at the sawdust bar in Pt Richmond, Harriet’s Hut, ends up losing the waitress, Lena, just as he lost his loving wife. She had confessed she slept with his agent—to advance his career. Humiliated, he turned his back, just for a moment, and she jumped from a window. Later, Lena is killed by a stray bullet, at the house of his criminal brothers. Wanting to face danger alone, he had tried to prevent her from making the trip. He returns to the Hut and continues to play the piano, although almost catatonic with grief and guilt. His fingers, stretching out in a gesture of need, play for the patrons, who, unlike Jander’s family, do appreciate him; at least he has found a substitute family. Still, the perseverance seems to be an absolute in itself. What possesses him?
But to what end is the endurance? One could ask that of Goodis’ most stoic, and forlorn, protagonists: Whitey, Hart, Bevan, Nat, and Cassidy. Whitey (Street of No Return) saved Skid Row from an evil racketeer, but remains a flophouse alcoholic. Nat (The Burglar) , until he is passed the point of no return, suppresses his love for Gladden because of an enduring, mistaken, obligation he felt to her dead father.
Cassidy (Cassidy’s Girl) goes back to driving a bus after a terrible crash as an airplane pilot, and to Mildred, although they continually almost kill each other in drunken, sado-masochistic sex bouts. It was this kind of self-limiting obligation that made radical writers, contemporary with Goodis, create characters who escape their previous entanglements and try to remake themselves: Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Michael Perkins, Samuel Delany, Henry Miller. Crime novels published (some not originally) in paper for mass distribution, like Jim Thompson’s Savage Night,Highsmith’s Ripley novels, Charles Willeford’s TheBurnt Orange Heresy andWoman Chaser, Cain’s Double Indemnity, Lawrence Block’s Mona, McCoy’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and They Kill Horses, Don’t They? all feature protagonists who break chains with which the laws of their culture define obligation and trusting behavior. These characters at, at best, only pertly sympathetic. Of the novels I just mentioned, only Highsmith’s Ripley and Willeford’s Richard Hudson are even alive.
Vincent Gallo, in an unproduced film of a Goodis novel.
My point: Goodis’ Noble Loser’s decency, humility, refusal to compromise with coercive threats, and sense of responsibility—all traits insisted upon in our culture as prerogatives for self-respect and admiration— fail him in significant ways. Whatever self-respect he gains is not very evident; he usually has a long way to go to find resolution . In my book, I discuss Arthur Miller’s concept of the 20th century “tragedy of the common man.” The Noble Loser's ideal are admirable, but perhaps--just perhaps--they also threaten self-defeat. Kafka seems to be suggesting this in Metamorphosis (Gregor), The Castle (K), and maybe in The Trial (another K).
It was this kind of self-limiting obligation that made radical writers, contemporary with Goodis, create characters who escape their previous entanglements and try to remake themselves: Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Michael Perkins, Samuel Delany, Henry Miller. Crime novels published in paper for mass distribution, like Jim Thompson’s Savage Night, Highsmith’s Ripley novels, Charles Willeford’s TheBurnt Orange Heresy and Woman Chaser, Cain’s Double Indemnity, Lawrence Block’s Mona, McCoy’s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and They Kill Horses, Don’t They? all feature protagonists who break chains with which the laws of their culture define obligation and trusting behavior. These characters are, at best, only partly sympathetic. Of the novels I just mentioned, only Highsmith’s Ripley and Willeford’s Richard Hudson are even alive at the end. Current noir writers who feature characters who cannot stomach the culture that bred them, and believe their society tries to "suicide" them (Artaud's phrase) are Barry Gifford (Wild at Heart), Harry Crews (A Feast of Snakes), and Vicki Hendrix (Iguana Love).
Self-limiting obligation reminds me of two of Orwell’s statements while discussing 1984: that the “modern state creates well-trained citizens” and that the “neurotic’s internal thought police” make such a person Big Brother’s ultimate victim. Al in Of Tender Sin, Jander in Somebody’s Done For, and Nat in The Burglar might be examples. At least part of the tragedy is that the Noble Loser has braved so many obstacles, developed so many traits that define a principled individual, and yet ends up with an existential awareness that the world “has played a trick on him,” as Nat put it in The Burglar. Or, as Kafka put it, “A cage went in search of a bird.” A noble loser was quite a catch.
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In this issue: for Goodis' daring incest novel, Of Tender Sin, scroll directly below the image of the novel's cover. For the writer's treatment of a femme fatale of biblical proportions, scroll down or press on Lilith(naked lady).
The image above shows a beautiful young teenager on either cover. But, when the book is fully opened, she is transformed into a child-monster. It is the work of the brilliant London-based designer [Jamie] Keenan. http://www.keenandesign.com/keenan%20usf.html Of Tender Sin (paperback original, Fawcett Gold Medal, 1952) is Goodis' most experimental novel, although he returned to the theme of incest several times.
The tender sin refers to the brother-sister incest. Al Darby and his sister were each other's "favorite person." She was trying tenderly to calm him when he saw her with her boyfriend, and Al got inflamed with lust. (He was 12; she was 15). Repressed, the event had been festering until one night, after a screaming argument with his nonplussed wife Vivian, Al has a "shattered dream," in which he sawan indistinct face of a woman with platinum blonde hair. French pbk with alternate title
That matched his sister's hair color, and also that of Geraldine, a attractive, dominating individual who enraptured him until he met and married Vivian. He returns to the dark, narrow house in working-class Kensington where he last saw her. She had been waiting for him, uncannily dressed in the same settled as when he left her six years earlier. Of course she is a platinum blonde. "This time you won't get away." Their mutual lust is more luridly described than that of the incestuous episode: “It was like crawling through a furnace, in the depths of the orange glow, down and down to where the fire was hottest. Then there was her wailing laugh that climbed and climbed until it broke ." Geraldine is a symbol, or symptom, of Al's guilt. As a horror motif, readers would be familiar with the uncanny. There is lots of horror in pulp crime: Thompson, Woodrich, McCoy, Robert Edmund Alter, and Elliott Chaze. See https://crimereads.com/horror-and-crime-are-kissing-cousins/ Goodis' evocative prose, as in the sample quoted above, is fine for it. Geraldine carves her initials in his chest, sends him out into a blizzard for a can of her favorite coffee, appears out of shadows in the same clothes as six years earlier, and finally orders him to join her in pushing cocaine to school children.
Lilithwas Adam's first mate, but due to her demand for equal status, she was banished to the pagan hinterlands, where she became the consort of Samael (Satan). Perhaps that's Samael in the painting above. She enticed and destroyed men, similar to the Sirens in Homer. Her special talent was preventing women from having normal childbirth experiences. Goodis alludes to this when Geraldine wants him to sell cocaine to school children, which would almost certainly shorten their life span. Often she and Samael kidnapped babies, replacing them with evil-souled creatures--see Keenan's illustration for the novel above. Blood is a kind of food and drink to her, especially Al’s, as her first and most insistent sexual turn-on is the carving of her “G” in his chest. Only when her sadism is most irresistible to Al does she call him “darling.” I discuss other allusions that show Goodis' knowledge of the myth in my book. Geraldine is Al Darby's self-imposed torture for that forcing of his sister (after which he never saw her again). His nobility is in that very need to atone, which drew him in nightmare canniness to snowed-in, ice-bound Kensington and her old dark house, a kind of time warp. He was there 6 years before, and perhaps, if one's fate is set in ancient stone, as seems true with Goodis' ensnared protagonists, prisoners of sex, he was always there. Does he escape?