David Goodis

"Black Friday: And Selected Stories"

(Reviewed by Tony Ross APR 26, 2007)

Black Friday and Selected Stories by David Goodis

This collection brings pulp writer Goodis' short 1954 novel Black Friday
(the basis for an unremarkable French film) together with twelve crime stories culled from the hundreds he wrote for the pulp magazines under a variety of names throughout the '40s and '50s. If the book is anything to go by, Goodis must have been a very unhappy man, as almost every one of his protagonists are morally decent men who've been dealt a raw deal by life. And no matter what they do, or where they turn, fate is ready to kick 'em into the gutter.

Black Friday is the epitome of this, following a man on the lam who washes up in Philadelphia without a dollar on him and the cops closing in. The early stages are quite engaging, as Hank drifts around the freezing streets and has to steal an overcoat. But in one of those circumstantial devices that the reader has to roll with, he stumbles across a man who's just been shot and has $10,000 in his wallet. This brings Hank into the orbit of a gang of burglars, whose safe house proves a good place for him to hide out.

But of course, the confined quarters make the hoods cranky and quarrelsome, and the menace of violence lurks under the surface of their communal meals and nightly poker games. This tension is all well done, however the story starts to get rather silly when both of the women in the house (one whorish, one madonnaish) fall for Hank -- complicating the group dynamics even further. As Hank gets sucked deeper and deeper into this quicksand of a situation, the book starts to lose its grip. Goodis imbues the proceedings with a fatalism that doesn't quite mask the inexplicability of some of the characters' actions and an totally melodramatic ending.

The twelve short stories were written between 1942-58, and after reading about 3/4 of them, I put the book aside, as they were awfully repetitive. In "The Dead Laugh Last," a gangster battles a competitor for the hand of a woman (there is the madonna/whore juxtaposition here too), and ends up causing his own downfall. In "Come To My Dying," another love triangle leads to murder and mayhem. "It's a Wise Cadaver" is about small con-artist trying to scam a big-time gangster and losing. "The Time of Your Kill" is a straight up revenge story about a small-time stickup artist. "Never Too Old To Burn" is a slightly more interesting story, featuring two ironworkers, a murder, and a nice twist ending. "The Plunge" is about a square cop whose obsession with a girl leads him off the straight and narrow. It's worth noting that the theme of obsession comes up a lot, and several stories end in suicide, or other forms of fatalistic self-destruction. Interestingly, the only two stories with might be called happy endings are both set outside the U.S. In "Caravan to Tarim," an American trader in Saudi Arabia is caught between the rock of his venal Arab boss and the hard place of bedouin desert raiders, and is forced to make a choice to survive. In "The Blue Sweetheart," an independent prospector turns up in Colombo (then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka) with a massive emerald -- putting him at odds with a rich mine owner who also stole his woman.

Overall, the book confirms Goodis' status as a cult author. If you love his kind of stuff, well, he doesn't stray too far afield from his regular style. And if you really like it, there's an excellent bibliography of Goodis' oeuvre at the back of the book. Personally, I find a little of it goes a long way -- his heroes all look alike and too many characters fall victim to sudden obsessions and monumental fatalism. There are certainly nicely crafted scenes and arresting flourishes here and there, but on the whole, the book is likely to appeal only to the limited audience who really likes classic pulp.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Movies from books:

  • The Unfaithful (1947)
  • Section des disparus (1956) from Of Missing Persons (1947)
  • Nightfall (1957)
  • The Burglar (1957)
  • Shoot the Piano Player (1960) from Down There
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode: "An Out for Oscar" (April 5, 1963)
  • Le Casse (1971) from The Burglar
  • And Hope to Die (1972) from Black Friday
  • The Moon In The Gutter (1983)
  • Rue Barbare (1984) from Street of the Lost
  • Descent into Hell (1986) from The Wounded and the Slain
  • Street of No Return (1989)

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About the Author:

David GoodisDavid Goodis (1917-1967) was born and raised in Philadephia. He graduated from Temple University in 1938 with a journalism degree. He publishe is his first novel in 1939, after which he moved to New York City and wrote under several pseudonyms for pulp magazines. It is said that he churned out 10,000 words a a day and over a five-and-half-year period, produced five million words.

His big break came in 1946 when his novel Dark Passage, which was filmed with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. He went to Hollywood with a six-year contract as a screenwriter.

He returned to Philadelphia in 1950 to live with his parents and schizophrenic brother. He hung out in the nightclubs and seedy bars depicted in his fiction. He died in 1967 of cirrhosis of the liver.

His work went out of print after his death, but in 1987 Black Lizard began to reissue his titles in 2007 Hard Case Crimes will publish some of his work which hasn't been in print for over 50 years.

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