Monday, May 16, 2011

Hanging with David Goodis and Cassidy's Girl

I'm back for what appears to be about a once-a-month post. So it goes. A kind soul (Murlmeiner McStogheimer) sent me an extra copy of the NoirCon 2010 program, which takes the form of a pulpy 50s paperback, with an illustration of David Goodis on the cover. Goodis is basically the patron saint of NoirCon, which began as GoodisCon in 2007.

The NoirCon 2010 program/book has some great selections, including two chapters from Charles Willeford's unpublished (but later cannibalized) book, A Necklace of Hickeys; there is also a Woody Haut article about Willeford's library; and excerpts (with commentary by Francis Nevins) from Goodis's deposition when he sued United Artists TV, alleging that the show The Fugitive infringed on the copyright of his novel, Dark Passage (known for its Bogart film adaptation).

So, the little NoirCon 2010 book got me interested enough to read Goodis's 1951 novel Cassidy's Girl. (I had known a bit about Goodis, but had only read Shoot the Piano Player (aka Down There) and seen the Truffaut film adaptation (as well as Dark Passage).) The novel tells the story of Jim Cassidy, a well-meaning, alcoholic bus driver with an extremely unlucky past and a wild wife, Mildred. Cassidy falls in love with another woman, Doris, and then winds up on the run, wrongly accused of manslaughter. The story and characterizations are excessive and unbelievable, but nevertheless, they get under your skin. This, I believe, is the David Goodis experience: you descend into a chaotic but poetic world of dissolution, drunkenness, violence, and sexuality.

Goodis writes vividly, and occasionally his writing is peppered with strange, original, rhythmic descriptions. Here, for example, Cassidy and his friends sit in a dive drinking and talking: "...and then for a while it was quiet while all of them concentrated on their drinking. The interlude of quiet was like a strange lack of noise on the deck of a slowly sinking ship, with strangely unexcited people climbing into lifeboats. They were unaware of one another, quietly concentrating on their drinking." Notice the repetitions, the twist on the sinking ship trope, and finally, I would call out the adverbs -- slowly, strangely, quietly. Here the adage about avoiding adverbs is dead wrong. This passage also puts to rest decisive arguments about the necessity of sparse prose for noir effect.

Goodis is also known for his depictions of -- and male protagonists' obsessions with -- well-rounded women. Here is Mildred, in all her pulpy glory: "He [Cassidy] was seeing the night-black hair of Mildred, the disordered shiny mass of heavy hair. He was seeing the brandy-colored eyes, long-lashed, very long-lashed. And the arrogant upward curve of her gorgeous nose. He was trying with all his power to hate the sight of her full fruitlike lips, and the maddening display of her immense breasts, the way they swept out, aimed at him like weapons. He stood looking at this woman to whom he had been married for almost four years, with whom he slept in the same bed every night, but what he saw was not a mate. He saw a harsh and biting and downright unbearable obsession."

I've got more to say about Goodis, but I'll save it (if I remember) for later. I should note that the (Creative Arts) Black Lizard reprints of a handful of Goodis titles include a very illuminating introduction by Geoffrey O'Brien (now the editorial chief of Library of America and the author of the pretty fun book, Hardboiled America: The Lurid Years of Paperbacks).

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