Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Goodis’ South Jersey, A Place Of Test And Transformation - Jay Gertzman

So, you were expecting  the cover of my book? This is Delaware Bay, on the edge of the Pine Barrens, where Somebody's Done For takes place (see below).  Evening or morning? Rising or setting sun?.
Three novels have crucial scenes in the Jersey Pine Barrens, a place of thick vegetation, wildlife, isolated houses and dirt roads. Legends exist of misbegotten souls (the Jersey Devil), ghost towns, and isolated inbred families. In Down There, it is where the protagonists’ criminal brothers hide. In The Burglar, on a highway made nearly undriveable by rain and wind,  a panicked thief shoots two cops. In Goodis’ final story, Somebody’s Done For, a man named Jander becomes enthralled by a ghostly, remote female who is herself in the clutches of an incestuous father.

The Burglar
Shoot the Piano Player
Somebody's Done For

In The Burglar, the point beyond which there is no turning back is a rainy night on the Black Horse Pike, as it enters the Pine Barrens with its soaking, wind-bent trees. One of Nat Harbin’s gang of “honorable” (no violence) thieves suspects an ambush.    He kills a traffic cop who was just warning the driver to slow down. The shooter was upset b/c Nat, the boss, had told his guys he was thinking of quitting. Suspicion of betrayal moved in. Driving on Black Horse Pike in a nor’easter becomes a dark wet path to the unknown. The final stop on that path is the Atlantic Ocean, the only place where the hero and heroine can be together, in a classic of screwy father-son obligation and doomed romanticism.
In Shoot the Piano Player, piano player Eddie’s brothers’s hideout is in South Jersey, “deep in the woods.” Rt 47 is named, which passes by southern NJ  near the Pine Barrens highway. The hideout is so isolated that there is no post office nearby. Mail has to be picked up in a small town nine miles away. The house has no electricity or water pipes,  and no connection to outside world.  The furniture is "scraggly," with stuffing hanging out. Also present is the piano Eddie learned on. He is back where he started—with his criminal family. But the piano, instrument of escape, is replaced by a gun. Due to the brothers’ thievery, they are cornered by thugs who want their dough back.

"It ain't a house, it's just a den for hunted animals." He has to keep his girl friend Lena away from it, though he wants desperately her to be with him. And yet she’s found her way there. It is another example of doomed romanticism, a point from which one returns, if at all, further trapped in a psychic dark wood symbolized by the isolation and indifference of a world barren of justice.

Goodis’ final novel, Somebody’s Done For is set on edge of South Jersey’s Delaware Bay. The isolated setting of water, cloud, and marsh is ideal for testing resolve and perseverance to the point of death.
This is a map used as part of an unidentified robbery scheme hatched somewhere in the Barrens. I use it here because it shows pine trees,and a car driving through the snow, just as Eddie and Lena did to reach the hideout. It embodies a  mystery almost beyond words, except for those of a writer like Goodis. It also applies to Somebody's Done For . There is another hideout in this story: "seemingly crouched there in the darkness like something alive, the black hulk revealed itself to Jander."
The action of Somebody's Done For is played out about 50 miles to the south of the Pine Barrens, where Eddie meets his obligations to his criminal brothers. Calvin Jander saw Vera dancing at a bizarre night club, The Amethyst (all the performers wear purple, the color of the semi-precious stone). The club is near the decrepit house (see image above) that Vera shared with her murderous “father” and vindictive “mother.” She had been kidnapped as a child; the ransom scheme fell through.

 My last chapter of Pulp, According to David Goodis discusses the creative strength of his last novel. SDF is about the never-ending human conflict between desire for happiness and the forces that oppose it, chiefly the power of family and state obligation. Vera is like Lena (Down There), Celia (Street of No Return), Edna (The Blonde on the Street Corner), Myrna (Black Friday), and other ethereal females whom the protagonist yearns after. Fate, and the femme fatale, intervene—which to say, certain characteristics in the protagonist’s psyche doom the romance. Goodis uses the Amethyst myth imply purity, spirituality, and ancient blood. All that, and obsessive belief.

BTW: One of the biggest U.S. deposits of amethyst is in Delaware County 

PS: See Jen Conley’s Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens(Down and Out Books, 2016). “A strong scent of Pines permeates the air. A wide trail opens like the mouth of a tunnel.”

To pre-order Pulp, According to David Goodis:

Monday, September 3, 2018


By the Book: George Pelecanos

George PelecanosCreditCreditIllustration by Jillian Tamaki
Who is your favorite overlooked or underappreciated writer?
David Goodis is largely forgotten today. He was a genuine noir writer whose troubled psyche leapt off the page. I would add Charles Willeford, a singular, radical voice in fiction, to the list.

 New York Times Book Review
Aug. 23, 2018, p.8.