Just finished Jim Thompson’s The Grifters. This compelling and oh-so-bleak noir tale is a lesson in concision, tight plotting and character development. It differs a bit from the movie of the same name, which I saw many years ago, but the basic story is the same.
One of the enjoyable aspects of the novel things is Thompson’s occasional commentary on the state of his characters’ world. Here’s a favorite passage, steeped in noir, where Thompson describes a major downside of the daily existence of those who make their living through cons, swindles and double-crosses:
“…a fearful shadow lies constantly over the residents of Uneasy Street. It casts itself through the ostensibly friendly handshake, or the gorgeously wrapped package. It beams out from the baby’s carriage, the barber’s chair, the beauty parlor. Every neighbor is suspect, every outsider, everyone period; even one’s own husband or wife or sweetheart. There is no ease on Uneasy Street. The longer one’s tenancy, the more untenable it becomes.”
On a lighter note, as a craft beer drinker and a fan of West Coast IPAs, I had to laugh at this passage, in which grifter Roy Dillon drives out of La Jolla, California looking for a place to buy “a good ale.” Check it out:
“Turning the car toward San Diego, Roy drove out of the southerly outskirts of La Jolla and into the more humble districts beyond, slowing occasionally for a swift appraisal of the various drinking establishments. Many of them were open, but they were not the right kind. They would have only the West Coast beers, which, to Roy’s way of thinking, were undrinkable. None of them, certainly, would have a good ale.”
My how times have changed. Perhaps if Roy had been able to enjoy the fine West Coast ales from Stone, Ballast Point, Port Brewing and many others, things would’ve ended better for him. Perhaps.