Well to one side of the discussion about literary canons and Bloom and the like, is the question of why the sort of 'pure noir' writing of a writer like Goodis will never hit as big with popular tastes as, say, more mainstream thrillers. Which is, I think, that our culture doesn't really value its tragedians much, and that most readers crave a certain kind of poetic justice that doesn't accept a full catastrophe for the hero. The endurance of a downtrodden, hardboiled hero is one thing - stoic, admirable - but narratives that end in that sweet, sweet disaster just don't satisfy many readers.
As a readers advisory librarian, I've had some direct experience with this, both in talking with readers, and in audience response to a suspense storytime I do at the library. I once read Goodis' "The Plunge," which ends (beautifully) with the narrator's suicide, and every time I do one of these I sense many of the audience members' discomfort with this kind of thing. Authors with a dark or macabre twist - say Roald Dahl or Patricia Highsmith - do much better with audiences that openly tragic stories by Goodis or Joyce Carol Oates. That unresolved or minor chord at the end just doesn't sit well with many folks, or doesn't agree with their underlying or subconscious reasons for craving story. And it has a lot less to do with the darkness of the journey than exactly how it ends, and how the moral balance sits. The humor of much contemporary noir works to compensate for that, but with someone like Goodis, its just raw on the page.
It makes me wonder about the institution of ancient greek tragedy, and whether it was embraced by the plebes, or whether it was like being dragged to church for a lot of them. I LOVE Goodis and I LOVE Greek Tragedy, for many of the same reasons I think.
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