RARA-AVIS: The Grifters

From: Paul Miller ( phm@midsouth.rr.com)
Date: 02 Feb 2003

In keeping with the February theme 1960-69, The Grifters by Jim Thompson was written in 63. Some of you may remember last spring I posted about my re-reading of Thompson's novels to try to determine for myself which was his
"best". At the time I came up with Getaway. Since then after much mulling over and chewing on this question I revised Thompson's best picking his "The Grifters" as best.
 Grifters is a more introspective work by Thompson and the characters are more finely and fully drawn. The scenes and atmosphere are painted with a gritty realistic brush. Thompson's first person narratives are well done, it's just that the first person vehicle for story telling is limited and for me all things else being equal a good third person narrative will just about always carry the day over a good first person.

[Grift is money made dishonestly as in a swindle or a confidence game. The grifters in this novel by Thompson are Lilly and Roy Dillon and Moira Langtry. Lilly and Roy are mother and son and haven't seen each other for seven years as the book opens. Moira is Roy's girlfriend, a prostitute, and a former grifter. Roy has a steady sales job and he makes the grift on the side. Lilly does her grifting for the mob, betting down the odds on long shots at the horse races so her boss won't take too big of a fall should one of those long shots come in. This novel has beautiful description, great characterization, and even some subtle jabs at consumerism and the corrupting aspects of the modern world. Moira and her former grifter partner Cole laugh at and make fun of advertisements. Moira in a bar after ordering a sidecar feels "that the times were out of joint with themselves, and that the most emphasis was put on the least worthwhile pursuits". "She can no longer hear it. It was lost, the music which each person had inside himself, and which put him in step with things as they should be". Dillon is the name Thompson used on his Communist party Identification card. Many artists at the time were interested in Communism because of their concern for social justice for the poor and didn't know much about the larger Communist world. There is an Oedipal atmosphere that develops in Roy's love hate relationship with Lilly. This novel builds at a slow crescendo pace and the ending is a shocker. This is Thompson's true magnum opus.]

The film adaption by Frears is one of my favorite movies and stands as one of the best noir book adaptions ever.

Does the 60-69 theme indicate books with events taking place then or books that were written then?

Paul Miller

# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# majordomo@icomm.ca.  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Feb 2003 EST