The Wounded and the Slain by David Goodis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the more remarkable first chapters in the noir genre. The first paragraph begins with the as yet unnamed focal character considering suicide. As we flip from page one to page two we have this: “At the other end of the bar they were having a good time, talking pleasantly with some energetic laughter thrown in. He tried to hate them because they were enjoying themselves. He collected some hate, aimed it, tossed it, then knew right away it was just a boomerang. There was no one to hate but himself.” He is Bevan, drowning in self-pity and alcohol, and we learn him with a narrative point-of-view that alternates between close third and second person. This narrative approach becomes quite stunning as Goodis introduces Cora, Bevan’s wife, and treats us to the same alternating close third and second person treatment of her, which is juiced up by her seeming schizophrenic second person voice. As the first chapter winds down Bevan is falling down drunk in the bar trying to pick a fight with a guy who comes to help Cora get Bevan out of the bar. The second chapter is Bevan’s back story. He marries young Cora but it turns out she is not interested in sex so Bevan takes up with a hooker, gets found out and trades the hooker in for booze, and races towards alcoholism to the point where a change of scenery is suggested to him by a neurologist. Cue chapter three, the morning after in Kingston, Jamaica and the beginning of a descent that immediately brings to mind Malcom Lowry’s Under the Volcano, published in 1947 and a work Goodis surely would have known. Goodis’ prose is a bit ragged when describing action scenes like the bar fight, but he is at his mesmerizing best when narrating from within the soul-tortured heads of Bevan and Cora.
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