Forgotten Books: Down There by David Goodis from 2010
"Love between the ugly/is the most beautiful love of all."
I haven't kept up with all the Goodis mania of the past five years or so so forgive me if what I'm about to say has been said not only better but quite often as well.
To me Down There is one of Goodis' finest novels filled with all his strengths and none of his weaknesses. The world here is his natural milieu, the world of America's underclass. Yes, there are working class men and women in Harriet's Hut, the tavern in which a good share of the action happens, but most of the book centers on two people, Eddie Lynn, the strange protagonist and piano player and Lena, the strange somewhat masochistic waitress. They live on pennies.
The story is this: Eddie's brother Turley is a criminal and a criminal being sought by two killers. In defending Turley, allowing him to escape, Eddie himself becomes a target. Not until well into the novel do we learn why the killers want to "talk" to Turley. It takes almost as long to learn Eddie's personal secret, that he was once a Carnegie Hall attraction with a golden future of him. What happened?
Triffault filmed this in the sixties. Much as I like Triffault's films I was disappointed by this one. There is a purity of composition here that Triffault missed entirely. Few crime writers have the skill to vary melodrama and comedy as well as Goodis did. Even fewer have the nerve to extend set pieces the way he does.
For just one example there's a scene where the two killers have captured Eddie and Lena and are taking them to find Turley. The two men, Morris and Feather, begin to argue about Feather's driving. This becomes a mean, bitchy Laurel and Hardy sequence with the heavy threat of violence. This is a kidnapping scene. The comedy isn't foreshadowed. A high risk break in mood. And it works perfectly. And it is three or four times longer than most scenes found in the paperback originals of the time.
The Todd Rundgren quote applies to many of Goodis' lovers and never more so than here. Even by Goodis standards these two people are ugly with failure, with distrust of the world, with contempt for the values most people hold dear and most of all with loathing for what they've become. Goodis breaks your heart with them, especially in the surreal scene in which they are forced to hide out. Lena touches Eddie's arm--one of the first time they have any physical contact of any kind--and it's powerfully erotic because it is charged with desperation and an inkling of trust and forgiveness.
No matter where you look you won't find a novel as unique, and as shrewdly observed (there's a long bar scene that would fit perfectly into The Iceman Cometh) as Down There. I guess it's time I need to get all caught up in this Goodis mania after all.