jueves, 25 de noviembre de 2010

Shoot the Piano Player

Shoot the Piano Player (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1990)
by David Goodis
USA, 1956

Even if, like me, you've stupidly somehow never seen the famous 1960 Truffaut film that was based on this book, it doesn't exactly take a genius to figure out that something bad is going to happen to someone good early on in Shoot the Piano Player (originally published as Down There in its pre-movie tie-in incarnation).  That being said, I've got to give Goodis a lot of credit for at least making me hope I'd be wrong about who was going to get it by the end.  A gritty noir about what trouble walks into reclusive piano man Eddie's life the night a couple of mob goons chase his wayward brother into the Philly dive bar where he works, this slender novel also works in some affecting nods to family ties, the true cost of loyalty, and the unexpected kindness of strangers who can't be bought in the course of its 158 pages of bleary-eyed tragedy.  Although it doesn't all work--like in a lot of pulp fiction, characters would sometimes say and do things that just left me scratching my head in disbelief--enough does that I'd consider trying out another Goodis down the road.  In the meantime, two things really stood out for me here.  The first was Goodis' flair for characterization: in a Harriet's Hut full of carnivalesque barroom archetypes, the salty bar owner, the ex-professional wrestler turned bouncer, the waitress carrying a hatpin for protection against unwelcome advances, and even the house prostitute all seemed genuine as individuals.  The second was that Goodis was quite sympathetic toward his female characters, to the point that Lena the waitress could even be considered the most complex of all the leads in this otherwise high-testosterone genre workout dedicated to male criminality.  While the downward trajectory of Goodis' career as a writer--in specific, the flight home from Hollywood after the onetime bestselling author flopped out as a screenwriter and the subsequent return to an apartment above his parents' Philadelphia garage, where he's said to have spent the rest of his short life as an alcoholic churning out works that were largely ignored in this country--kind of makes him seem like a figure out of one of his very own novels, I halfway wonder whether his own experience with the heads or tails of "success" and "failure" accounts for the tender, almost sentimental treatment of his main characters here.  Of course, that doesn't keep any of them from dying.  (http://www.vintagebooks.com/)

David Goodis (1917-1967)

11 comentarios:

  1. Oh, I like this review. I love books like this and funnily just ordered a Hammett that is in the same series. Maybe these hard-boiled thrillers are not always top logical but the atmosphere and the portraits are enough for me to make them ejoyable and always make me want to go to the next bar and talk to complete strangers. This book has been added to my wish list right away.

  2. Or even if you have neither read the book NOR seen the movie, it doesn't exactly take a genius to figure out that something bad is going to happen to someone good if YOU have selected the book to read! "Gritty Noir Reader" - you need it on a t-shirt! (I added the word "reader" to make it sound more polite)

  3. I love Jill's comments on your blog, Richard.

    I've sort of had my eye on this book/film for a while now, but my interest is now piqued by what you say about Goodis's complex treatment of his female characters. I must admit I love noir even when the women are cardboard femme fatale stereotypes, but complex females would be the icing on the dreary, atmospheric cake. :-)

  4. Although I've been tossing around the idea lately that I'd like to try some "gritty noir," it's what you say about the characterizations that really catches my attention here. I may have to keep my eye out for this one.

  5. *Caroline: Thanks, glad you enjoyed hearing about this one--and I agree that the atmosphere helps make up for other defects in this type of genre work. By the way, care to share which Hammett you got? I'm a fan, but I haven't read much by him in ages.

    *Jill: You're full of great t-shirt ideas all right! However, you really can't expect me to believe that your vampire bat thingies are all about hosting ice cream socials now, can you? And do I need to remind you that the last time I read a "unicorn-friendly book," I was chided for making many of my fellow bloggers cry all the way from Texas to Portugal on account of my, um, honesty? Let's not go there with that one, my friend!

    *Emily: The funny thing about Jill is that she made it all the way through K Lav with nary an overwrought historical fiction complaint, and yet she seems to have an endless supply of ammo for books she hasn't even read. A true crack-up, though! Would be interested in your take on Goodis--I thought his females were interestingly drawn, but somebody else I read cracked on him for having "angelic females" as a constant in his work. Not sure what to make of that without reading more by him, I guess.

    *Amanda: Goodis' characterizations definitely appealed to me, but I'd be glad to hear if you agree if you wind up reading this for yourself someday. In the meantime, I'll see if I can get Jill from Rhapsody in Books to hook you up with some "Gritty Noir Reader" apparel, too!

  6. I ordered The Glass Key as I read a review on Kurosawa's movie Yojimbo the other day. It seems the movie is based on The Glass Key and Red Harvest. I think I got the Maltese Falcon somewhere. My very favourite "hard-boiled" author is Chandler. Love the Big Sleep. Nah, love everything he wrote.
    "Unicorn-friendly" books. That's hilarious.

  7. I've been wanting to read a hard-boiled thriller for awhile. Not sure this is it, but I am intrigued.

    Also, Caroline that's interesting about Yojimbo being based on The Glass Key, etc. I'll have to check that thread out, as I watched Yojimbo recently and really liked it.

  8. Just when I thought I had a pretty good take on what's out there when it comes to crime/noir stories, along comes someone I've not even heard of (not that I've read everyone I should have). I must see if my library has him. Have you read any of Simenon's American books? Not hardboiled, but if you like gritty...

  9. *Caroline: I wasn't aware of Yojimbo's roots, but you've certainly reawakened my interest in Chandler and Hammett with your comments here. Would love to read/reread more of them plus James M. Cain (three favorites from my long ago high school and college days).

    *Sarah: I wouldn't read Shoot the Piano Player before some of the bigger name titles in the field, but you couild do a whole lot worse in a pinch. In the meantime, all this Kurosawa talk is making me want to watch The Seven Samurai (don't think I've ever seen the complete version) and rewatch High and Low (one of my fave crime films ever).

    *Danielle: I think I only read one Simenon (a very long time ago at that), but I have a copy of The Widow waiting on a shelf for me (don't think it's set in the U.S., though). Anyway, thanks for the tip and the visit and good luck with your library search for Goodis!

  10. Red Harvest is a scream - a completely ridiculous book. Bad things do not happen to good people in it. Bad things happen to bad, bad people.

    And then the subsequent life of the books ia amazing - the samurai Yojimbo, the Western A Fistful of Dollars, and, I think, other versions.

  11. I love the movie and have been a little uncertain if I should read the book. The movie is quite comedic and though it has its noir elements, seems to blunt the more hard boiled aspects. I recommend the movie.