Re: RARA-AVIS: And for November!!!

From: William Denton (
Date: 17 Nov 2002

On 17 November 2002, Bludis Jack wrote:

: The only question I have . . . wasn't Dos Passos trilogy much earlier in
: the century?

It might seem like it, but the dates are: THE 42nd PARALLEL (1930), 1919
(1932) and THE BIG MONEY (1936). That trilogy has a lot of admirers on the list, and I'm one. I think it's one of the greatest works of American writing of the twentieth century.

Books like Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1934) and McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? (1935) deal directly with the Depression. Hammett ignores it in THE THIN MAN (1934), doesn't he? But that's in the same way that the screwball film comedies did, for escapism. Is it part of the background in, say, Cain's DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1936)? I don't think it was mentioned in the Latimer book I read, which was from 1935. There are people down on their uppers, but you'd see the same lowlifes and hoods twenty years earlier or later.

I suppose crime writers didn't have to be any different than other writers: they could write about the Depression, or not. Jim Thompson was out there living it and working for the WPA, but he wrote about it later. Hammett was boozing and mostly not writing. Chandler was out of work from the oil business, if I remember right, and turned to writing to make money. Did Okies or Hoovervilles crop up in any of his short stories? I don't remember any. Prohibition wasn't repealed until 1933, and the gangster network didn't disappear with it, so that provided a hoods, guns and violence, without the poverty.

One would think that crime writing would be closer to the down-and-outers, the street life and gangsters, but on the other hand the pulps weren't for realism, they were ten cent tickets to somewhere else.


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : : Caveat lector.

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