A few months ago, a journalist whose newsletter I follow posted about how much he loved David Goodis’ books. We had exchanged e-mails in the past; he turned me on to the fabulous Martin Beck series (bless him forever). Hearing him laud Goodis made me want to read more of the man’s work. When I saw a Black Lizard (bless them forever) copy for sale, I pounced.
My favorite avenue to explore existentialism is not in the philosophical novels of graying old men but in the brief, shot-to-your-head explorations of crime in noir tales. You get to know the main character, usually an unreliable narrator, through a series of unfortunate circumstances that have a bleak ending. I like these kinds of books but aside from Jim Thompson tales and Hard Case Crime novels, I don’t read as many. That should change.
This has all the classic settings of crime noir: a lead who’s in over his head, some untrustworthy characters, a crime that either has or must be committed, the stakes being raised in small but important ways. But really, it’s less a crime story and more a meditation on the human condition: how quick, well-intentioned but poor decisions land us in the messes we make for ourselves and how futile escape can be. It doesn’t necessarily have to be crime; it can be anything. The whole tale, from beginning to end, forces the reader to struggle with those questions as it lays out its twisted story, right up to the last few words.
I read it in one sitting, not being able to put it down. I need to get my hands on more Goodis.