RARA-AVIS: Rare Books Continued - Somebody's Done For

From: Jeff Vorzimmer (jvorzimmer@austin.rr.com)
Date: 26 Oct 2008

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    I recently finished David Goodis' book Somebody's Done For and have finally finished the entire Goodis catalogue. An interesting book that ranks with Cassidy's Girl, The Burglar, Down There and Black Friday. I believe it's only been reprinted once, in the Blue Murder series (circa 1993), since it's original publication as a PBO from Banner in 1967--after Goodis' Death.

    Like many of Goodis' novels it starts out with the protagonist contemplating his imminent death, although not by suicide, but by drowning. He's in the middle of Delaware Bay too far out to see the shore and about to give up treading water due to sheer exhaustion. Although he eventually makes it to shore, he spends the rest of the novel, the timeframe of which is a period of three days, facing imminent death.

    All of the Goodis hallmarks are there. The bitch/evil woman/women vs. the angel in need of saving, the suicidal thoughts, the unbelievable coincidences and the backdrop of Philadelphia. Although, in this, his last novel he seems to address the issue of implausible coincidences, by delving into the Freudian belief that there are no real coincidences. The machinations of our subconscious lead us to a point that only to our conscious mind seem coincidental. Mind you, I'm not saying he does this convincingly, but at least well enough to hold your interest and momentarily believe the implausible.

    I wouldn't consider myself a Goodis scholar (I appreciated the invite to Goodiscon, though) or even a fan of his, but his writing is compelling enough to have spent years tracking down obscure, out-of-print volumes. It's evident after reading the novels and a lot of his short stories that his writing at its best was a mirror of his own meager tortured existence and, at worse, Walter Mitty-like flights of fantasy that were far removed from his own humble life. When he talks about firearms it's clear he's out of his realm. His description of the workings of a shotgun show that the guy was never close to one in his life, let alone ever having fired one.

    I know he had has his fifteen minutes of fame and fortune with the serialization of Dark Passage in the Saturday Evening Post, the subsequent film version and the brief Hollywood screenwriting career that followed, but I don't think he crammed enough living in those good years to give his novels the necessary verisimilitude before retreating to the oblivion of the poolhalls of Northeast Philly. Hemingway, by contrast, actually ran with the bulls he wrote about and was in the First World War as well as the Spanish Civil War.

    When you read any of the dozens of flying ace stories he cranked out in the early forties, you realize just how apt the Walter Mitty analogy is. I'm sure the guy could count on one hand or two hands the times he was even in an airplane. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong here.

    Some interesting notes about his novels: They are all crime novels. All but four of them are set in Philadelphia. About half of them have the main character contemplating suicide at one point.


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