Saturday, November 28, 2015

Street Of No Return-David Goodis; 1954, Fawcett Publications

For the past few years, Disaster Amnesiac has been digging interviews and podcasts from an "alternative historian" whose view are quite challenging to mine. Within the spirit of free speech, and the desire to challenge certain orthodoxies that had begun to ossify within my perceptions, I have greatly appreciated this Youtube celebrity's spieling. Recently, he opined something to effect that "America has contributed NOTHING to world culture", and this assertion had me scratching my head, especially since I was deep into American writer David Goodis's 1954 novel Street Of No Return.
It seems to me that Noir writing's form, with its short, tight, descriptive sentences and bleak world views arose out of the necessity of describing the hard scrabble gauntlet that most Americans must indeed walk within our lives on this part of the continent. Street Of No Return definitely stays within those parameters, and masterfully so. Goodis's novel, the story of which essentially spans one long night in the life of a quintessentially 20th Century American Loser, is written with the economical, fast moving Noir style that gives voice to the constantly hustling American Masses. His pages-long description of main protagonist Whitey's beat down at the hands of a sadistic racketeer named Bertha struck this reader as a perfect metaphor for the myriad unpleasant turns that fate hands to so many people within the "American Dream".
Additionally, the sub plot of the novel, framed within a ginned-up race war, plotted and financed by unseen hands that couldn't care less about those doing the actual fighting, and only interested in the profitable chaos that stems from it, is clearly reflective of American culture. Sadly, that's a dynamic that's in play more within the 21st Century Global Culture, but the strange bedfellows that intertwine seem to Disaster Amnesiac to be singularly American. As such, Noir in general and Street Of No Return in particular  are deeply American, culturally.
Along with Jazz, Rock 'n Roll, Hip Hop, Bluegrass, Hollywood, and, indeed, Noir, America has indeed made a few innovations in culture. Disaster Amnesiac cannot say that they're all shining lights as compared to the innovations of various other World Historical societies. That said, novels such as Street Of No Return, which is a fine, fast, and really good read, give the lie to statements that would have American culture as one vast blank. Often dark? Yes. Blank? No, just churning within a firmament that we're all aware of, and trying desperately to rise above.

2 comments:

Pig State Recon said...

I spent a lot of time with David Goodis' novels at the end of the 80s, back when Black Lizard books reprinted some of them in that cool retro pocketbook format. Other writers wrote better dark mystery/detective works, but when it came to diving into THE BIG VOID, nobody could top Goodis. This was his best, and you are right - it's a classic of American culture.

Mark Pino said...

I loved Black Lizard books, too! Yeah, Goodis had a BLEAK vision! America, our personal gauntlet.