Friday, July 25, 2014

PICK-UP by Charles Willeford


Man, that was depressing! A bleak and nihilistic look at a destructive relationship and the negative effects of alcoholism. I imagine that if David Goodis and Jim Thompson teamed up to write the screenplay for the movie Days of Wine and Roses, they would've churned out this novel!

Failed painter and alcoholic Harry Jordan meets a pretty blonde lush named Helen in the bar and grill where he works. They almost instantly fall head over heels for each other, but anyone with common sense can tell that their relationship is doomed and will be mutually destructive, feeding off of one another's depression and their unhealthy need for alcohol and each other. They soon start down a dangerous path of self-destruction.

The synopsis reads like a standard hard-boiled noir novel but Willeford puts his own spin on it. The femme fatale is as tragic as the protagonist she "seduces",  and Willeford treats the plot elegantly and with little melodrama. The book is carefully crafted, with the author doling out exposition and back-story about Harry just when it's necessary.

And then there's the, that ending! I won't spoil it here, but I'll say that one moment, I'm finishing up an already well-written noir about alcoholism and doomed love, and the next, I read the last two lines and it drops a bomb, changing the entire way I viewed the story, making me want to read it again. Some people may see it as a cheap gimmick but I disagree, while a gimmick ending like the one in the movie The Usual Suspects negates the entire rest of the movie, I think that this book can still work without it, and it acts as a cherry on top, forcing you to consider the story from a whole new angle!

This is my first book by Charles Willeford. I've heard that in most of his novels he takes interesting new looks at the hard-boiled noir genre. If any of them are even close to being as awesome as Pick-up, I can't wait to read them!

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