I am an unrequited fan of Jim Thompson’s novels. If he’s not my favorite writer of all time, he’s one of them. I usually read books for good, well-plotted stories with richly developed characters. Rarely do I read them for metaphysics. Such is not the case with Thompson’s work. Famously dubbed the “dimestore Dostoevsky”, Thompson’s unrelenting nihilism and views of the corruption of human nature weirdly fit my own despite my cheery demeanor. I believe we’re all mere steps away from chaos and those who take advantage of the void protecting us (maybe?) from chaos are the strong preying on the weak. Thompson is so damn good at describing the void.
King Blood has been out of print for a long time and hasn’t been reissued as frequently as the rest of Thompson’s oeuvre. I scored a copy years ago but kept putting off reading it. Finally sat down to do so last night and for the first 2/3rds, I thought it was a really decent Thompson tale, not his best but better than some. It felt like Succession in the sticks filtered through the lens of Thompson’s worldview…
But then…gah! A horrifically violent act done to a woman.
Now, violence against women is not new in Thompson’s world. It’s a real problem. It plays into his nihilism: the themes of power and who has it and who wields it. Thompson is quite good at writing female characters who play the game too; most of them are not babes in the woods being preyed on by violent men, but predators in their own right (including this book).
I don’t like excessive violence against women; Thompson is one of the very few writers I tolerate it with because his books challenge me on such a deep level. It’s something I consider whenever I read them but try not to dwell on in favor of the larger message.
But good God, I tap out here. Thompson found my weak spot and I cry out my safe word.
Granted, I finished the book. I’m a believer in not rating books you don’t finish, no matter how bad they are. If not for that scene, this would be a standard issue four-star. But it crosses a boundary with me. I don’t know why that particular boundary is set there and not in other places where I’ve been disgusted with Thompson’s violence but not enough to quit because of what he is using the violence to try to say (it’s rarely exploitative).
But no, this is a rubicon. I’ll read more Jim Thompson; hell, I’ve got half his catalogue to go through. But I just can’t recommend this book or give it any love, even if it has good moments like many Thompson stories do.