Pulp According to David Goodis
Sewn into Goodis’ plot are a remarkable number of story lines he was, or soon would be, working on in his novels. Ken has served 9 years in San Quentin, but is now pursued and alone, as are Parry in Dark Passage (1946), Hart in Black Friday (1954), and Vanning (Nightfall, 1947), all escaping from people who want to kill him. Ken’s “sad, lonely grey eyes” and resigned smile are typical of many of Goodis’ protagonists: Eddie, Whitey, Blazer (Fire in the Flesh, 1957), and Corey (Night Squad, 1961). Street of No Return, written about a year after “Black Pudding,” has a coldly determined crime boss, Sharkey, a further, more detailed version of Riker, Ken’s pursuer. Both have a “gotta have it” yen for a woman the protagonist has been with. In the short story she is Hilda, an elegant woman whom Ken, like Whitey in the novel, sees twice: once when they meet, and then when, about a decade later, a transformed Ken and Whitey torture themselves by seeing her as exactly the same flawless creature, but now ineffably remote. Hilda has platinum blonde hair, as does Geraldine, the Lilith-like cocaine addict to whom Al Darby is slavishly entangled in Of Tender Sin (1952). Both Geraldine and Hilda have the sadistic, debasing tactics of Cora in Behind This Woman (1947) and Madge in Dark Passage. Hiding in a cellar, Ken meets Tillie, whose deceased husband pimped her out, beat her, and in a fit of self-inflicted self-hate, threw her out a third storey window, causing a skull fracture and a horrible scar running from forehead to lip on one side of her face. An opium addict herself as a result, she tells Ken revenge (black pudding) will give Ken a backbone, so that he can fight Riker’s gang instead of submitting or always running. In Dark Passage, Irene does that for Parry, and in Down There (1956), Lena does it for Eddie. Tillie’s husband’s suicide (he “took a meat cleaver to himself”) was her revenge. “He just couldn’t stand to live with himself.” In Goodis’ last novel, Somebody’s Done For (1967), there is an especially eerie echo of this line. The protagonists’ father died of a coronary, but his daughter says, “But mostly it was because he was fed up with himself.” That death occurred at age 49, virtually the same age as the writer’s own. Finally, Goodis fans, intensely loyal, are familiar with the first sentence of his first novel, Retreat from Oblivion (1939): “After a while it gets so bad you want to stop the whole business.”
This points not only to a nimble mind, but to the attempt to circle around a response to a key moment which captured an individual and still does. One of Kafka’s aphorisms states, “Writing is only an expedient, as for someone who is writing his will shortly before he hangs himself—an expedient that might last a whole lifetime.” Many writers tell the same story over the course of their career. Hemingway is an example, always returning, like Nick in “Big Two-Hearted River,” to sites of an injury.