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The Dimestore Dostoevsky | Trash Cookies

Categorized | Books

The Dimestore Dostoevsky

Posted on 14 June 2008 by Jaz

There are glorious trash cookies to be found in nearly every realm of the arts. All one needs to do is look in the dark alleys and dirty corners, all the places your mother insisted you should stay away from… But what fun have you ever had by listening to your mother? When it comes to the written world it is doubtless that an excellent example lies in the pulp novel. At the time of their publishing the bulk of these novels were considered to be trashy, poorly written works constructed with the lowly intent of mere titillation. As time progressed however readers and scholars alike began to recognize the literary merit of these throwaway, read em and toss em books. It is hard to deny the fact that there had to have been something of substance to these novels when some of their writers moved on to be successful leaders in their chosen field. Such easily recognizable authors as Upton Sinclair, Isaac Asimov and Mark Twain all spent time toiling in fields of the pulp novel. Each of these men certainly made significant contributions to literature and without a doubt received the recognition for such achievement. Some of their colleagues unfortunately did not receive praise as they were being published or even later in their lives. For some writers it was not until well past the time of their deaths that they slowly began to garner the attention that they so rightfully deserved… I am of the opinion that Jim Thompson was one such writer.

popThe first novel I stumbled upon by Jim Thompson was Pop. 1280. Widely considered to be one of Thompson’s finest works it was published later in his career and like the bulk of his novels later re issued by Black Lizard (the vintage crime offshoot of Random House). Pop. 1280 is written in the first person perspective of Nick Corey who happens to be the sheriff of Pottsville County. At the onset of the story Thompson sets up Corey as a bit of a dullard and a lazy buffoon who seems to spend little time focused on his job as sheriff and more time trying to avoid the seemingly ruthless characters around him. As the story progresses however, Thompson masterfully and seamlessly reveals Corey’s true nature. It seems as if we were incorrect in our original assumptions of our dear sheriff. The fact of the matter is that he is wickedly intelligent and far more ruthless than any of those around him. Soon Corey is acting on dark impulses which often permeate the characters of Thompson’s novels.

Part of what makes the books of Jim Thompson such a joy to read is his uncanny ability to naturally write in many different voices. Another effective trick in Thompson’s arsenal was the unreliable narrator. It is commonplace in his books to find that your guide through the story has been lying to you or perhaps lying to themselves. While Thompson often used a few of his tricks multiple times in different novels he always managed to make it seem fresh and elegantly effective. In A Hell Of A Woman the main character actually suffers a breakdown in the middle of the book. At which point his personality splits and each personality takes turns narrating the story from that point. In the hands of a lesser writer this would be a ham-fisted train wreck of a gimmick but Thompson presents it masterfully which makes it almost impossible to put down.

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Later in his career Thompson did some work in Hollywood where he helped to pen the scripts for Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and Path’s Of Glory. A few of Thompson’s books have been adapted for film but were almost invariably castrated due to the thought that viewers would not be able to handle humanity being presented in as dark a fashion as Thompson did in his novels. Both versions of The Getaway end on an up note before things really turn to shit as it does in the book. The Grifters came as close as any American did to being faithfull yet they still managed to find a way to soften the blow which the end of the story delivers. I have yet to see the French adaptation of Pop. 1280 Coup de Torchon but I have been told that is far and away the most faithful adaptation of a Thompson novel to date. Needless to say that one is at the top of my Netflix queue.

At the time of this writing I have read all but four of Jim Thompson’s novels and I have yet to be let down in the slightest. He was an incredibly talented and intelligent writer who skillfully dredged the darkest reaches of the human mind to create some of the most exciting and readable fiction ever committed to paper. If you ever find yourself in a decent book store seek out the Jim Thompson section, close your eyes and pull something off the shelf. You will not be disappointed.

 

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