RARA-AVIS: Willeford's The Woman Chaser

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 25 Jan 2001

After the Hoke Moseley books I tooks I break by starting ACT OF FEAR, the first of Michael Collins' (aka Dennis Lynds) Dan Fortune books, which was toughish stuff, but so sedate I had to get back to Willeford. I stopped half-way through and picked up THE WOMAN CHASER (1960) , which I'd first read about six years ago and had mostly forgotten

There's some pretty weird stuff in this book, in a Jim Thompsonish vein. Richard Hudson is a car salesman, and is in L.A. setting up a new lot for his boss. He stays with his mother, who sleeps twelve hours a day and dances in the basement of her mansion, and who is living with her newest husband and his young daughter, who Hudson tries to French kiss the first time they meet. Minutes later he's kissing his mother and chatting with her while she's half-naked.

Hudson wants to create something, and is full of scorn for the Feebs who do nothing with their lives. He decides to make a movie, and ends up getting a deal with a studio and making one (about a truck driver who runs over a little girl), which turns out to be damned good. (By this time he's completely abandoned the cons he'd pull on the Feebs on the car lot, he's busy making the movie and left the business to a retired Army man.) The movie ends up at 63 minutes, too long for TV and too short for release. The studio wants to edit it, but he won't let them. The book ends with Hudson in a rage as he slashes a painting, punches a woman in the stomach, sets fire to a film vault, gets drunk and picks up a Salavation Army woman. It makes a lot more sense if you read it, but still, it's not your average book, especially given the movie script techniques Hudson uses to tell his story.

Willeford puts in comments about society, art, creativity, used cars, the Army, the working life, and a lot else, some of which is very reminscent of the later books (I noticed there's a line about Thurber and Matisse being similar; Hoke mistakes a Matisse for a Thurber in SIDESWIPE). People could go on at length about, say, the Salvation Army woman episode. I'm sure some people on the list have read it recently and will comment.

Last year's movie adaptation (http://www.womanchaser.com/) didn't hit Toronto, and I haven't seen it on video or had a reply to the e-mail I sent. People here said it was very good, though. How did they handle the movie Hudson makes, THE MAN WHO GOT AWAY? Was much of it shown? How was Chet Wilson, the actor who plays the truck driver?

Here's one particularly nasty bit from near the end, representative of Hudson, but not of the book overall:

| The timing was terrible on Laura's part. At another time, another
| place, I would have handled the situation differently; given her a
| check, or I might have sent her to a doctor I know in Stockton. If
| she had wanted to keep the baby, I would have paid the bills, and maybe
| I would have set up a little monthly allowance for child support. I
| don't know exactly how I would have handled it. But this way ... she
| picked a bad time.
| As I straightened up, I brought my fist up hard. My fist caught Laura
| squarely in the soft part of her rounded belly and sank in wrist
| deep. Her breath whooshed audibly as it left her lungs. She bent over
| forward, almost falling, took two short backward steps and then sat down
| hard upon the floor. I lifted her to the couch, straightened her
| legs. Laura clutched her stomach with both hands and slowly began to
| breathe again. Tears of pain and anger flowed down her swollen cheeks.
| 'Breathing okay now?' I asked. Laura nodded her chin
| tremulously. 'You'll be all right now, kid. That ought to do it for
| you. There'll be a couple of bad days, I suppose, but they can't be
| helped. The next time you get layed, you'd better use some kind of
| precautions. I may not be around to help you.'


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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