Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A romantic and desperate Willeford

Charles Willeford : Pick-Up, 1955.

What is a Noir?
Noir is usually a novel or a thriller or a mystery that hides instead is a story most brutal of crimes, and sometimes it can be both the one and the other. But if this really is Noir, the novel I've read, Pick-Up by Charles Willeford, what is it? We read that should be a Noir and Willeford wrote Noirs, but .. this is a Noir? I do not know.
Maybe yes, maybe no. Now I explain.
In a Noir, as we say today, term that says all and says nothing, there should be first a murderer/murderess, a thief, a burglar, a rapist, in short, a bastard: he/she is not here.
There should be a victim, slayed, skinned, cut into pieces, poisoned, hanged, stabbed, killed in short: she’s not here.
There should be a motive: revenge, greed, hatred, jealousy.
None of this.
Maybe there is nothing but the murderer is covered with an alibi: none at all.
But really what’s this novel?
It is not a violent Noir. It’s rather an Atmosphere Noir. It’s a pulp.
It’s a history of social degradation:it is the story of two chronic alcoholics who by chance one day they find each other and fall in love. Then one of two dies and ..
He is Harry and she is Helen, he is a failed painter, no one has bought his paintings and so it ended up as a cook, porter, to carry out the work most unlikely, then consume its modest money earned, in
the hiring of a hovel, where he lives, including paintings, dirty socks, dirty dishes and bottles of gin, and she, drunk woman with amnesia who can not remember where is her suitcase and her purse.
One day Harry meets Helen: Another damned, like him, who ran away from home, and now lives, swigging whiskey and gin at all hours, always dead drunk. Helen is beautiful, damn good, and between the two clicks something, a spark, in fact they end up in bed, and he realizes that knowing that we still do. And so they begin to live together. And only now, the trouble starts.
Already. Because the two but by thinking the same way, and being two derelicts, two dregs of society, lost two alcoholics, have a different vision of life: he loves her and alcohol, she loves alcohol and him. It's not quite the same thing. And compared to living together, those two are a contradiction: whereas normally it is the male who wants sex and the woman thinks the construction of the family, here is the opposite: he thinks about how to make ends meet, to work to support herself, and she just wants to be with him. And when she is not with him, he's drinking. He wants to be alone with him, and does not care that he maintains. Harry understands .. then.
Because Helen, in his desire to drink, drown his plays and also drowns herself. She does not care to live anymore. And for what? Has already attempted suicide, throwing down 24 tablets of aspirin, the night he had married: he wanted to be loved and to make love, and to this marriage she had come virgin, and she was raped by her husband that savagely raped her. And she has remained wildly traumatized. Now for her sex can be a way of life, which then means to drink, i.e. to forget.
Harry had met her that she could not remember where she put his suitcase and even her purse when she ran away from her mother, from whom she had taken refuge after the trauma of the wedding night.
The two love each other, but since they are made aware that they will not go on for long, trying for the first time to kill, with blades, except that Harry does not sink too .. and then they save.
Back to life, they think to get help from someone, maybe in a public hospital: go to St. Paul where doctors investigate more than the attempted suicide, why Harry and Helen are together. Why? The reason will be revealed at the end.
Are discharged, and reluctantly, the two will be aided by her mother, but Harry hates, hates him, treats him like an animal. But anyway, it helps them by giving $ 25 a week. Obviously they are not enough to pay the rent, food and whiskey, and so he looks for a job. But she did not care about anything: she wants to be with him, he wants someone to spend hours to talk to. Not finding him, while he works Apron, goes to bars, without thinking about what might happen. The first time Harry realizes it, he finds her in a seedy bar in the company of marines, who would like to fuck her, and so they barely paid to drink. This time Harry is able to bring her home because the Marines have mercy (he says they are married and have children as well), but again, he finds her in the company of a sailor half drunk that is caressing and touching her breast from under the private parts: this time Harry breaks a bottle and scarring his face.
Now she is unable to stop when she hears the stimulus of whiskey in the coffee even drink it in the morning. And so one fine day, every ounce of energy, not gaining other decision, they decide to re-kill, but they do it this time with the gas flap: they open a small flap saves Harry, but not Helen.
He pleads guilty, says he murdered her, strangled, reveals all, confesses beacause he wants to die, craves the gas chamber: no one understands why one so desires to die. They are used to ruthless killers, and clever: this is the first man  who rejects the lawyer, who confesses, and wants desperately Gas chamber. The fact is that Harry, with his history, with the fact that he was painting, it becomes a case, and everyone wants a picture of him, and some people even offers him sexually, with the complicity of Benson, a jailer became his friend.
But in the gas chamber Harry will never get: why? Why is not he the murderer. Who is it then?
I do not say. But I repeat that in my opinion this is not a Noir, and if it is, it is a different Noir.
That leaves you only a great emptiness.
And that hurts damn bad, like a punch in the stomach received.
A vintage Charles Willeford, his second novel, and you can see everything! It is not Miami Blues or The Way We Die Now: here there aren’t bastards and psychopaths, but the degraded humanity, that yes there is! It 's a very sad Willeford, almost atmospheric, and occasionally resurface his experiences, for example painting and military career.
Even more so when in the last two lines of the novel, you know that Willeford used a pseudo-detective story to talk about something else, of social and racism in America that freedoms of others peoples is becoming a champion. But it is not always able to heal his wounds social and racial.
Because the story hidden in the narrated here is the story, in America in the fifties and sixties, a union impossible. And everything, seasoned with a sauce that tastes like sad depression, insanity, alcoholism, to forget the broken dreams. The last two lines are by anthology. You know, you are forced to understand, if you have not already. In truth he scatters clues in conversations. And is capable who pulls them. I do not say, however, where to look for them, otherwise I reveal a lot of the novel.
This is Willeford, this is Pick-Up..
Its title Pick-Up, in reality it should have been, in the first draft, Until I Am Dead. And you would probably be better reconnected directly to the novel, where Pick Up is much more indirect but fierce.
I must say in all honesty that it reminded me a Horace McCoy’s novel, “I would have stayed home, where there is also social degradation, and alienation , failed dreams and violent depressions.
And besides, when Willeford began writing novels in 1953 with High Priest of California, Horace McCoy was already famous and soon to be failed so it is not unlikely that Willeford has learned a lot from McCoy at first, then with evolving years.

Pietro De Palma

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