If you saw the movie Uncut Gems, this book answers the question “What if Uncut Gems but Texas?” It’s wild.
The year of Jim Thompson continues with one I’ve wanted to get to for some time. The story is familiar: a perpetual loser looking to make the big score, with an attractive woman on his arm and the bad guys always at his back. The bad guys often carry a sheen of legitimacy, whether it’s oil or land money. This is a recurring theme in Thompson novels, his strongest critique of systemic violence. It’s on full display here. With Mitch, the anti-hero, he’s your typical con man: if he stops talking or moving, every one will see through his bs. So he has to keep it up. It makes the book quite thrilling.
The other thing on full display is Texas. This is a Texas tale to its absolute core. But whereas in the past, Thompson has usually stuck to rural Texas, this novel is mostly urbane, taking place in Houston and Dallas, along with a sprinkling of other locales. Thompson goes long several times on the wild histories of the state and its cities.
This is also clearly a late period Thompson work. The writing is more focused and there are fewer random detours or moments of meandering. It still carries many of his signature trademarks but it’s also written at a more mature time for him.
So why only three stars after a review that read mostly as acclaim? Two reasons: 1. The violence against women here is once again terrible. There are times when Thompson can use it to make a point about masculine impotence. However, there’s a completely gratuitous scene here that makes me feel guilty for still reading Thompson’s work, as much as I love it. I couldn’t get over it and while it’s debatable if “docking the book a star” is a real penalty, it’s all I can think to do. And 2. The ending. I know what Thompson was trying to do, it just didn’t work for me.
For about 90% of this, it’s a fun crime read. It’s a great gateway to Thompson’s work. Just know what you’re getting into.