RARA-AVIS: BlocK's _Grifter's Game_, Cain, and Gatesby even

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 02 Mar 2006

This novel develops, with subtle allusions to _Double Indemnity_ and
_Postman,_ a powerful picture of evil. The narrator, Marlin, meets his dream girl/nemesis Mona (epynomous title of the original, and a far better one than the recent paperback's). Joe "has to have her." The reason why is the noir mystery the book unravels. Block seems to be telling a fast-paced crime caper, but hides in the story a weird example of the American dream girl's power.

 Joe is a coldly calculating grifter who loves cars, classy clothing, top shelf hotels with all the benefits in expensive food, babes for sale, and gambling. SPOILER He and Mona plot the murder of her husband; they do it skillfully, after which Mona leaves Joe with a hefty fee and nothing more. But Joe has to have her, and finds a way to make her dependent on him forever. I won't reveal the ending, which is worthy of Jim Thompson's _Getaway_, and also of Cain in that Joe ties Mona to him in a death spiral similar to that of Phyllis and Walter at the end of
_Double Indemnity._ Why this act of complete control--physical and psychological--of another human being? It's evil personified, being also self-destructive, and ultimately as sado-masochistic as the specifics of how Joe kidnaps Mona in her Tahoe hotel room.

 It seems to me that Mona is to Joe the sexy embodiment of money itself, which to him is transcendent. Romantic love equates the woman with the Divine; Joe equates her with the Good Life--security, "class," swank, Trump gold, Bandar Bush oil. Mona is his Daisy, who with her voice like money was a similar golden girl for Jay Gatesby. It's amazing that Block can do this so subtly while telling a fast-moving yarn for a paperback publisher who wanted a 25 cent throwaway with a lot of sex and violence
(I think this was the period when Block was also writing soft core porn).

I wonder if anyone knows another powerful Lawrence Block portrait of evil and American-style materialism. I've only read a few of his noirs.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Mar 2006 EST