RARA-AVIS: nightmare alley

From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 11 Jul 2002

hi everybody!

i finished gresham's _nightmare alley_ a few days ago, and it was great. after reading the first 50 pages, i thought the title was a bit overboard, but i should have reserved my judgement until the end. i haven't seen a main protagonist sweat so much since charles williams's
_river girl_.


this is one of the few (the only?) noirs i've read where the protagonist's downfall was not from the cops or other criminals, but from pure character and personality dis- integration. and its a great, but tragic show. poor stan starts the book out as a somewhat likable rookie carny, and quickly shows a talent for being a mentalist, which means that he observes a person, and then makes intelligent guesses about past events in their lives, impressing the person with his ability to see into their past, and then making supposedly valuable suggestions on how to deal with the future. he strikes out on his own and decides that there's more money in being a spirit- ualist, so he gives up telling the future for being an intermediary between the living and the dead.

as the seriousness of his cons escalate, a mistress from hell, the pressures of the con, and some serious oedipal baggage from the past combine to chase him down the night- mare alley his life has become. the ending is spectacular irony.

my only complaint about the book is some odd socialistic rhetoric in the book. i call it odd because its like your sitting at the movie theater and all of a sudden a commercial pops up in the middle. it weakens the book. the implication is that stan's dilemma just might be a result of the evils of capitalism, and thats pure rubbish. stan is destined for hell whether under the cruel yoke of capitalism or arm-in-arm with brother marx and engels.


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