Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Stuff everybody should read #1

My favorite American writer is Jim Thompson.  I dig Henry Miller, but even old Henry didn't cut to the chase of the American Nightmare like Jim Thompson did.  My absolute favorite book by Thompson is Pop. 1280.  Some see it as a retread of his much better known book The Killer Inside Me.  I disagree.  As much as I dig The Killer Inside Me, I think Pop. 1280 is a example of a writer taking an idea once explored and refining it with the benefit of time and reflection.  In that light, Pop. 1280 strikes me as a rewrite of The Killer Inside Me.  Like most good rewrites, it is a stunning improvement.  Here's an example of the narrator (and Thompson, by extension,) telling it just like it is: 

What I loved was myself, and I was willing to do anything I god-dang had to to go on lying and cheating and drinking whiskey and screwing women and going to church on Sunday with all the other respectable people.

That's America, folks.  At least, far as I've seen it, which has been from coast to coast.  The narrator drops that bit of philosophy just before shooting Uncle John, a black man who thinks he can convince the narrator he won't drop a dime on him.  Thomspon's psychotic sheriff gives him the most honest, blunt reminder of America's deep racial wounds, telling him he ought to know better.  And then he shoots him.  Wouldn't see that in a Hollywood movie today, would you?  Of course not.  Most artists have gone soft and refuse to be honest with their audience.  Thank God Thompson lived in a time when his novels could be shoved off to the pulp shelf and exist without the wagging finger of "political correctness."

I will recommend Thompson novels (hopefully) on a weekly basis.  I started with this one because it's a pretty good test for the uninitiated.

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