The year of Jim Thompson continues with what is by far the best book of his I’ve read this calendar year. It may be a cut below his truly greatest works like Pop. 1280 and The Grifters but it’s really darn good.
I once heard Jason Concepcion of The Ringer fame compliment Quentin Tarantino by saying that the director “democratizes pop culture.” In other words, he takes B-movie stuff like gangster films and martial arts tales and turns them into high art.
Thompson can perhaps be thought of in the same way: he turns the dime store novel into something psychologically horrifying. What started as what appeared to be an Oedipus tale in rural Oklahoma morphed into something else, something far grander, that by the last page, I had my mouth open. And it’s because of two reasons…
- Thompson plied his manual labor trade in the fields of Texas and Oklahoma. He knows the sparse, unforgiving landscape well and you feel it in his books.
- Thompson’s ability to delve into the human psyche to identify our base impulses, unfulfilled desires, and unchecked rage…I’ve just never read anyone like him. Apologies to Stephen King, whose books I enjoy, but Thompson writes horror. Not spooky monsters and ghost houses. Rather Thompson understands the scariest monster of all: our inner selves when trapped in a bad environment.
I’ve read some of Thompson’s semi-autobiographical work; it’s clear that paternal angst is prevalent throughout. Thompson never forgave his father for the man’s financial misdeeds that apparently cost his family a fortune. He retells Oedipus many times in his books yet I keep reading because while the story is familiar, the approach is always fresh and scary.
This is a great book to check out if want to get into Thompson’s work, though I don’t recommend him to many.