Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s
by David Goodis
Review: From the late 1930s until his death at just age 39 in 1967, David Goodis wrote relentlessly. Eighteen novels, several radio and film screenplays, countless pulp fiction stories. The Library of America has collected five of his works, edited by Robert Polito, all relatively short crime novels, some more well known than others, in the single volume David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s.
The five novels are: Dark Passage (originally published in 1946), which may have been the inspiration for the television series The Fugitive; Nightfall (1947); The Moon in the Gutter (1953); The Burglar (1953); and Street of No Return (1954). These are all stories of men in situations of their own making but somehow beyond their own control.
Though the plotlines of these books have little in common, they are stylistically similar, written in a manner that suggests a raw, unpolished stream of consciousness. One might even consider them both the first and only draft of the book. This is not to say they are poorly written in any way. The dialog is frequently short and punchy, as if the participants are talking over each other. The narrative is often expressive and moody, not necessarily descriptive in a detailed picture sort of way but evoking a mental image nonetheless. There's something very appealing about the — probably unrealistic from a reader's standpoint — process of the author envisioning and developing a storyline as he commits the words to paper, and feeling like part of the experience.
"Noir" is a hard term to define in crime fiction. Some consider it to mean "hard-boiled" or "dark" or "tough". With these novels, "noir" seems to mean "real". Not the everyday reality of ordinary people, but the reality imagined by the author for the characters he writes about. David Goodis: Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s is a terrific, and seemingly suitably representative, introduction to this author's work.
Acknowledgment: Library of America provided an eARC of Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s for this review.
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Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s by David Goodis
Publisher: Library of America
Publication Date: March 2012
List Price: $35.00