Monday, September 28, 2015

Jay Gertzman's Pulp According to David Goodis: Thompson, Cain, Willeford and Goodis

Pulp According to David Goodis

The Noir experience is set on course often by the imperatives of a family unit, which include reverence for a father-protector and sheltering a younger sibling. Necessary in themselves, these could become absolutes, fostering anxieties that wound instead of fulfil loved ones. It is one of Goodis’ major themes and the root of the anxieties, delusions, and hellish nightmares that block fulfillment for his noble losers, men such as Al Darby and Nat Harbin and women such as Al’s wife and Nat’s surrogate sister. 

The writer explores post-war family dysfunctions as Robert Polito shows Jim Thompson did. In The Grifters, Roy and his mother, both con artists, must live apart and keep their cons secret from each other. Perhaps that is why Roy’s mother treats her son like a younger brother. A victim of an abusive father, she also looks at him “with a suppressed hunger.” Thompson’s Lou Ford has a killer inside him. Sexual arousal makes him kill his partner; it is connected to the guilt and fear he felt after his father caught him with a housekeeper. His father eventually had him vasectomized, because he saw his son was a paranoid sadist who had gotten love and hate interwoven. He could not admit that its origin was in the model he himself had been for his loving son. He had used his house keeper to flagellate his sex partners. She seduced Lou as revenge against the father, whose merciless whipping of his son suggests a shadow of incest.

Other noirs about the sexual attraction stimulated by the possibility of incest include Willeford’s Miami Blues and perhaps Woman Chaser (Freddie Frenger and Richard Hudson are attracted to women their mother’s age), Cain’s The Butterfly, and Felice Swados’ Reform School Girl. Michael Avellone’s novelization of Sam Fuller’s film Shock Corridor is as replete with details about mental patients’ incestuous thoughts as Fuller’s own novelization of his film The Naked Kiss is with obsession with pedophilia.

Goodis also sets many of his plots in motion by portraying families as harboring psychosexual dysfunctions (aggressive or submissive fathers, incestuous siblings, hateful and cheating partners). They are also rife with criminal endeavors (extortion, loan sharking, numbers running, housebreaking, drug peddling) rationalized as survival tactics. But the subversive vision is masked by expressions of reverence for the institution itself. That is very desirable to entrepreneurs of mass entertainment, in which, as Robert Warshow wrote, “the reality of the surface” is important.

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