Saturday, September 13, 2008


Okay, fine. Make fun of me because I've never read one of the gold standards of my favorite genre. Have a good laugh. But it's better late than never, I say. That's what my "Catching Up" series is all about, after all. Even a full-time nerd like . myself hasn't read or seen everything. Like a lot of noir junkies, some of the original authors get left on my TBR pile so that I can keep abreast (heh) of all the great new shit that comes out every week.

But yeah: I should have read Street of No Return ages ago.

Millipede Press reprinted the book last year with a nice little introduction by Robert Polito (which should be more of an afterword, in my opinion). It looks like a book your poetry professor assigned for the class just to keep his buddy the author in booze money, but don't let the cover fool you - this book is balls-out great.

Prior to this book I had only read Hardcase Crime's reprinting of Goodis' The Wounded and the Slain, the finest book yet offered from the publisher (which is a bold-ass statement, considering how many great books they've pumped out in just a few short years). Considering how much I loved that book at the time, I honestly can't explain why it took me over a year to get back to reading a Goodis novel.

Well I finally have and now I'm hooked. I burned through Street of No Return and have since picked up another regrettable-looking Millipede reprint called Nightfall and a great-looking copy of Black Friday put out by Serpent's Tail.

Like The Wounded and the Slain, Goodis starts out with a loser with seemingly nothing-to-lose and then puts them through the noir-wringer until they either give up or go down swinging. Whitey is a bum with a sad past who comes out of his stupor upon recognizing a passerby, someone from his former life as an up-and-coming crooner. Whitey follows the man a ways only to get sidetracked by a dying policeman left in an alley following a race riot. As he attempts to help the policeman, some other cops come up on the scene and take him in as the suspect.

Then things really start to suck for poor old Whitey.

The whole novel is basically a series of out-of-the-frying-pan-and-into-the-fire episodes that all turn out to be related in the end. Yeah, there are quite a bit of coincidences, but the storytelling is so sharp that you'll be more impressed than skeptical when everything starts to come together. Besides, with Goodis it's more about the atmosphere and the mindscapes of his tortured protagonists. And the dialogue and juicy pulp prose (my favorite line being the one that describes the face of Bertha, the powerful thug woman of enormous girth, where he talks of her "tiny eyes pushed into the fat meat of her face like tiny pins in a cushion."). And the violence. There are a few action scenes in this book that rock with the best of our modern noir writers.

Also of interest in this book is the frankness within when discussing race and sex (the sex is much more shockingly frank in The Wounded and the Slain). There is no off-hand racism in the book though if there had been it would most likely have been excused as a product of its day. There much discussion of black and Puerto Rican characters and never did the P.C. police need to make an arrest or recieve a complaint. There is even a character with a rather interesting sexual kink - and he's not a villain! But then again, Goodis always seems to be on the side of the underdog, so why wouldn't he have respected minorities and "sexual deviants" as well?

I have heard from a few people that this book was their favorite Goodis. I thought it was great, but still found The Wounded and the Slain to be just slightly better, mainly because there weren't as many coincidences. But I still have a few books to go before I could even begin to say what my favorite Goodis is, so why even try to stack them up at this point?

I guarantee reviews of Black Friday and Nightfall shortly...

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