Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Goodis: A Life In Black and White" by PhiIippe Garnier (Black Pool Productions)




I have known about this book, "Goodis - A Life in Black and White" for a long time now.  In fact, there were slight plans to make this into a TamTam Books title, but it didn't happen because the stars were not lined up correctly at the time.  Nevertheless it is now translated by its author, Philippe Garnier, and published by Black Pool Productions in a very handsome edition.  Oh, and the book, by the way, is excellent.  For those who don't know David Goodis' books and writings, he is perhaps the most underrated noir writer in existence.  At least, in my neck of the woods.  Everyone comments on Jim Thompson, but have a tendency to forget about Goodis, who I think is a superior writer.  Garnier is the first person to track down David Goodis and his world.  So in a sense this is a biography on Goodis, but alas, it is much more than that.

If this was a film, it would be a low-budget version of "Citizen Kane," where Garnier tracks down people who actually knew the legendary author.  Like Kane, the more layers that come off the stories about Goodis, the less one knows of him.   It seems he had a thing for black American women who were obese and super mean.  In other words he wanted to be abused by these women, and that fact sort of comes through his novel writing.  But it is hard to tell because it seems Goodis was exceptional with respect to his ability to compartmentalize his life.  One gets the impression that there isn't one person he knew actually had the whole story of his life.   In other words, the more one looks, the less you know.

"Goodis: A Life in Black and White" works on different levels.  It is about a writer tracking down another writer, and doing the hard part of the job, which is going after leads that sometimes lead to nowhere.   But one of the many things that are interesting about this book are the interviews with people who knew Goodis.   They pretty much say all the same, especially the people who were close to him, but even that, he comes off more vague than a real human being.  We know he's a practical joker, that he had a weird dress sense, and went out of his way to drive probably the worst automobile possible at the time.  So it does seem to me that he worked towards himself to have an identity of some sort - but even that, some people have a hard time remembering him.  He strikes me as a spirit who had the talent to disappear and re-appear at will.  No doubt Goodis was an odd character.

Garnier being french, is quite critical of his fellow critics of the french film writing world, who like to make out Goodis a a man of great tragedy, but according to Garnier, he had money and wasn't that much of a depressive noir type of character.  But on the other hand, what type of guy was he?  The book is about that, but it is also about the journey to find out the facts and separating it from the myth.  Also one gets a clear idea about the Hollywood studio system and its relationship with writers - as well as the pulp publishing trade.  All of it is super interesting in this great book.

Also please note that I will be appearing with the author Philippe Garnier at Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park on March 29, 2014 at 6:00 pm.   We'll be having a little chat about his book and on the life of the always fascinating  David Goodis. 

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