RARA-AVIS: Rare Books Continued - Retreat from Oblivion

From: Jeff Vorzimmer ( jvorzimmer@austin.rr.com)
Date: 19 May 2008

My third installment in my rare book reviews is David Goodis' first novel Retreat from Oblivion. First of all it is a crime novel. It's noir. It's never been published in paperback.

I say it's a crime novel, but only tangentially in the way that most of his later books were. The crime is almost incidental to the action and isn't the story in and of itself.

Goodis would never write anything this ambitious again, at least anything that was published. The action takes place across three continents and includes two wars as the back drop--the Spanish Civil War and the Sino-Nippon War. There are eight characters whose lives intertwine in love and war in Hemingwayesque fashion. In fact, as a young novelist (he was 22), Goodis seems to have been influenced quite a bit by Hemingway, although Retreat from Oblivion predates by a year Hemingway's own Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, by a year.

All the elements of later Goodis novels is there, the main character torn between two women (in this case he's involved with three women), the self-doubt, the contemplation of suicide and aimless wandering of the protagonist, who doesn't seem have a clue as to what he's looking for.

An interesting note is that it has one thing in common with Kerouac's On the Road published almost twenty years later. Retreat mentions a tune by Slim Gaillard, who Kerouac extols at length in On the Road.


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