~Post by Daniel
“Goodis is a crime novelist, but only in the way that Herman Melville is a nautical novelist and Cormac McCarthy is a writer of westerns.”
– Nathaniel Rich (The New York Review of Books)
My introduction to David Goodis was through the work of filmmaker Francoise Truffaut. In high school, I fell in love with French New Wave films. Godard was always my favorite director from that movement, but one film that always stood out for me as very important was Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player.
Shoot the Piano Player, I later discovered, was based on a crime novel titled Down There by David Goodis. After discovering this, I attempted track down any books of his I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, at the time, every one of his books had been out of print. It wasn’t until much more recently that people like Charles Ardai and Robert Polito, two very passionate crime fiction enthusiasts, have helped make his work more readily available.
Charles Ardai is writer and publisher at Hard Case Crime. In 2007 he gave us a Goodis novel which hadn’t been published in 50 years, The Wounded and the Slain. Then last year, Down There was republished under its original title for American Noir of the 1950s by the Library of America. Robert Polito, a devout fan of Goodis, was the editor responsible and went on to curate this year’s collection: David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s, also published by Library of America.
After finally reading his work, I can understand why he has garnered a strong cult following. Goodis has been writing for the genre since the early days of pulp rags. His themes are dark and familiar, but there is more to Goodis than that. There is something in his prose that clearly separates him from his contemporaries. His writing is smart and never exhausting.
A sense of gloom is carried in many of his novels, a dark cloud that washes over many of his protagonists. Many believe this was reflective of Goodis himself. He worked a short stint in Hollywood, which made him cynical. As a result, his books became darker. The books collected in David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s are a perfect example of this. The characters in the collection are often hopeless and lonely. He is the definitive “noir” writer. The word “noir” literally, and appropriately, meaning “black.” Oftentimes when something bad happens to one of his characters, and you think it couldn’t get any worse, he tops himself, the danger always escalating.
Goodis was never as highly revered as Chandler or Hammett, but he delivered a certain level of originality to the genre that makes him important. He undoubtedly belongs up there in the big leagues.