Re: RARA-AVIS: David Goodis review

From: Allan Guthrie (
Date: 01 Nov 2006

There's a lot of opinion in this that I disagree with, along with some odd observations, but it's always good to see exposure for Goodis. There's a factual error in the opening paragraph: "Retreat From Oblivion" was published when Goodis was 22.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Randy Krbechek
  Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 5:56 PM
  Subject: RARA-AVIS: David Goodis review

  Below is a David Goodis review that ran in the
  L.A. Times on Saturday, October 28, 2006.

  Randy Krbechek
  Fresno, CA


  Times Staff Writer

  Black Friday And Selected Stories
  David Goodis
  Serpent's Tail; 434 pp., $13.95 paper

  DAVID GOODIS is the quintessential hard-boiled
  writer, someone for whom noir was not just an
  aesthetic but a way of life. He was born in
  Philadelphia in 1917, graduated from Temple
  University with literary aspirations and
  published his first novel, "Retreat From
  Oblivion," when he was 32. From there, however,
  his career was a series of setbacks and
  disappointments, near-misses and never-weres.

  His biggest success came in 1946 with the
  thriller "Dark Passage," which was made into a
  movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren
  Bacall. This led to a screenwriting contract at
  Warner Bros., but Goodis never did1 much in
  Hollywood, returning to Philadelphia in
  1950. With the release of "Cassidy's Girl" the
  following fall, he became king of the paperback
  originals, publishing 11 novels in the next six
  years. These books are remarkable for the
  consistency of their vision, the loneliness and
  disappointment with which they frame the world.

  Again and again, Goodis writes of artists or
  professionals who have betrayed themselves,
  ruined by whiskey, women or their own character
  flaws. In many ways, the story is his. Although
  he enjoyed periodic flashes of recognition - his
  1956 novel "Down There" inspired Francois
  Truffaut's film "Shoot the Piano Player" - Goodis
  essentially remained anonymous, churning out pulp
  fiction that sold quickly and just as quickly
  went out of print. Depressed and alienated, he
  died in 1967, of complications from cirrhosis, at
  age 49. He remains a cult figure, his books
  sporadically available and not widely read.

  Newly reissued, "Black Friday" is Goodis' 12th
  novel, originally published in 1954. To be
  honest, it's not his best book; that honor
  probably belongs to either of the two novels that
  preceded it, "The Moon in the Gutter" and "The
  Blonde on the Street Corner," or the bleak and
  unrelenting "Down There." Still, it is a vivid
  effort, not least because of its compact vision
  and the way that Goodis touches on nearly every theme that marks his work.

  The main character is Hart, a painter on the run
  from family tragedy, who returns to Philadelphia
  (he's a graduate of the University of
  Pennsylvania) only to fall in with a criminal
  gang. To survive, he must pretend that he is one
  of them; his life depends on not being found out.

  Complicating matters are two women, the tough and
  domineering Frieda, with whom he sleeps, and the
  quiet Myrna, whom he loves. This is a typical
  Goodis triangle - the male protagonist caught
  between two very different women - but here it is
  exacerbated by the claustrophobic nature of the
  book. Virtually all the action unfolds in a row
  house, during a freezing week in January, as the
  gang grows edgy in such tight quarters and in anticipation of a score.

  The tension is so overt that it's almost
  physical, especially for Hart. "He wondered why
  he wasn't sick," Goodis writes. "He thought
  maybe he was beginning to get tough. He told
  himself it didn't really make any difference,
  because he didn't give a hang, but underneath he
  knew he did give a hang and it made a lot of
  difference and no matter what he kept telling
  himself he was really afraid of what was
  happening inside him." The idea of a character
  watching himself harden and yet unable to stop it
  is classic Goodis; for him, existence is not so
  much something to be directed as to be
  endured. Events come upon us and we yield to
  them; the only choices are bad ones, and no one ever wins.

  There's a temptation to see this as a reaction to
  his life, which, if his work is any indication,
  was a source of disenchantment and despair. But
  his fiction speaks to a deeper existential
  desperation, an essential disconnection from the
  world. It's no coincidence that Goodis' novels
  take place almost entirely in Philadelphia, an
  old city, a cold city, a city of crumbling
  streets and broken promises, where the past
  encircles his characters like a noose. "If we
  gotta blame something," gang leader Charlie tells
  Hart and Frieda, 'let's blame it on the
  climate. We got a weird climate here in Philadelphia."

  Here we have a definitive territory of
  alienation, in which there are no codes, no
  larger community and everyone is on his or her
  own. Even when we find a place - a home, a
  family - it's a matter of convenience, or worse,
  another trap. This is what the gang represents:
  a strange kind of family, in which the price Hart
  pays for shelter is the subjugation of
  himself. And yet, the self always emerges,
  although when it does, we're not necessarily
  better off "So this is the way it usually
  happens," Hart reflects. "It doesn't need a
  Frieda to spill the beans. Sooner or later we do
  it ourselves, we give ourselves away."

  "Black Friday" has been in and out of print over
  the years, but in this edition it is accompanied
  by 12 stories Goodis wrote for such pulp
  magazines as Manhunt and New Detective in the
  1940s and 1950s. That's significant because,
  although Goodis produced millions of words for
  the pulps (under his own name and a variety of
  pseudonyms), almost none of this work has been reprinted before.

  There is, to be sure, a reason for that: If
  Goodis' paperback novels were regarded as
  disposable, many of these stories are even more
  so, quickie toss-offs done for money, with little
  of the dimension necessary to explore his larger
  themes. This is especially true of the earliest
  material, which is almost entirely formulaic,
  shoot-'em-ups and murder mysteries, in which noir is little more than a pose.

  The later stories, from the same period as "Black
  Friday," are much better - taut, neatly
  constructed, somewhat more nuanced, the efforts
  of a craftsman at the top of his game. Still,
  with the exception of "Black Pudding," a neat
  tale of revenge and redemption, they don't rise
  to the level of his novels, which remain among
  the finest hard-boiled fiction ever produced.

  Perhaps the fundamental difference is that even
  at their best, these stories illustrate the
  limitations of the genre, whereas Goodis' novels
  transcend the form. They represent noir at its
  purest, a cry of desolation in the face of an
  apathetic universe, a tarnished elegy for the
  soul. Such a vision defines "Black Friday," the
  idea that there is nothing that can save us in
  the end. Or, as Goodis puts it: "He was walking
  very slowly, not feeling the bite of the cold
  wind, not feeling anything. And later, turning
  the street corners, he didn't bother to look at
  the street signs. He had no idea where he was going and he didn't care."

  David L. Ulin is the book editor of the L.A. Times.

  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

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