Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review: David Goodis, Down There [a.k.a. Shoot the Piano Player] (1956)

Why do so many readers rank David Goodis so highly in the pantheon of noir? My theory goes like this: His best books, including Down There, are remarkable primarily for their restraint. Goodis does his best writing when he doesn’t overtax his talent by trying to do too much. Thus, good Goodis gives you no complicated criminal plots, no overwrought sexual hijinks. He’s simple and he’s bleak, and therefore he gets credit for a kind of noir purity and for a corresponding artistic ambition. But in this realm, art happens only when character happens, and Down There’s characters are thin. The most notably thin is protagonist Eddie Lynn, who is more husk than human. In fact, Eddie has cultivated his huskness as a psychic defense against his painful past. His response to most everything that goes on around him is an empty smile. Eventually, of course, Eddie is forced into substantially more action than this, but, as is typically the case with Goodis, as the action accelerates, the artistry deteriorates. One of Goodis’ great strengths, however, is righting himself on the final page and ending on a perfect note. Grade: B+

1 comment:

  1. well, that is probably one of the more concise and on-the-money assessments of Goodis' merits as I've read - thanks (I think). It's been ages since I actually picked up one of his titles but I suspect the reason i never got beyond his best-known works (DARK PASSAGE, THE BURGLAR, NIGHTFALL) is probably because while the tone is right he rarely moves beyond the basic archetypes o really humanise is characters - and I say that as someone who basically has very positive memories of reading his work.