Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Down There [1956]

David Goodis is ironically qualified as Philadelphia’s most famous unknown writer, and considered by many noir aficionados in the same league as Hammett and Chandler even if he doesn’t command the same widespread attention. He gained possibly his greatest moment under the sun when François Truffaut, fresh out of the smash success of his debut feature The 400 Blows, adapted his novel into Shoot the Piano Player, which was imbued with quintessential Nouvelle Vague treatment and sensibilities, and ranks amongst his most fascinating works. The book under question was the lyrical, haunting and deeply melancholic Down There. It was drenched in fatalism, had all the hallmarks of hardboiled literature with its doomed characters, moody atmosphere and bleak realism, and succeeded in being a wonderful, if tragic, paean to all the lost souls of the world. The tale’s lovingly etched protagonist, and a stand-in for the author himself who was forever an outsider both during and his life, is Edward Webster Lynn aka Eddie. In his present avatar he’s a no one with a mysterious past, and living a squalid existence – spending his daytime playing honky-tonk at a cheap joint, and his nights with a doting hooker at a run-down apartment. Before he became what he became and unbeknownst to his colleagues with whom he keeps emotional distance at all times, he was a prodigy with the piano with a glorious future until all his dreams and aspirations came crashing down. And now, courtesy his criminal brothers, his past, which he’d been running away from, catches up in the form of two nasty hoodlums, further complicated with the presence of a beautiful waitress where he works and a gorilla-like bouncer who’s besotted with her. Goodis brilliantly counterpointed noir archetypes – cynical world-view, low-lives, doomed romance, wise-cracking dialogues, pervading hopelessness, heartless landscape – with a jazzy spirit, and a surprisingly mellow, quietly affecting and wryly funny tone, thus elevating the book beyond its generic confines while still making this terrific genre-piece.

Author: David Goodis
Genre: Crime Drama/Romantic Noir/Gangster/Hardboiled Literature
Language: English
Country: US

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