With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!
There are those moments in life so powerful and disturbing that they defy definition. For me, Jim Thompson’s novels provide such moments. Or maybe it’s more fair to say they knock me into them backwards—ass over applecart.
Apparently, I’m not alone in that. Read what’s been said about Thompson, and you see that everyone is grasping: “If Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich could have joined together in some ungodly union and produced a literary offspring, Jim Thompson would be it….His work…casts a dazzling light upon the human condition.”
This is the first quote about Thompson’s work that many readers encounter, the Washington Post blurb splashed on the back of the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard editions that came out in the 1990s, after years when it was hard to find Thompson’s novels. It’s evocative, and for fans of hard-boiled it has a dreamlike feel. But ultimately it’s not very helpful.
Why? Well, the problem with any definition that works by comparison is that it can only sketch around a thing: a chalk mark on a sidewalk, it misses the heart of the matter entirely—the heart that is so raw, so terribly visible, it forces you to work through analogy in the first place. “What does Hammett have to do with anything?” you might argue. “There is none of his carefully-controlled and sleekly-styled disillusion here. Surely the reviewer should have said Chandler, Cain, and Woolrich. Or better, Cain, Woolrich and Chandler, in that order.” In no time, what is Thompson’s is lost.
Yet such an approach is understandable, for to look at the heart of Thompson’s work… Well, it’s a hard place to look. But in the end, the only way to get at it is to read, and then live with the consequences for a while. Continue reading “Year End Review: A Few Thoughts on Jim Thompson and The Grifters”