Friday, January 08, 2021

Dark Passage - David Goodis


David Goodis’s 1946 novel Dark Passage could not possibly be more aptly named than it is because this is one of the darkest novels imaginable. According to the Library of America, Dark Passage is the novel that gave Goodis the little bit of fame that he enjoyed during his lifetime, and that was primarily because the book was turned into a popular movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Other than that relatively brief moment, it appears that his work was kept alive  mostly by what LOA calls an “international cult following” which included several prominent European film directors who adapted Goodis’s work for the screen. 


The story begins with Vincent Parry escaping San Quinton Prison where he has been jailed for the murder of his wife. Parry, though, is one of those rarities among a prison population that never stops protesting its innocence - he really is innocent. He did not kill his wife, and he was convicted of the crime almost entirely based upon the trial testimony of a friend of his wife’s. Now, recognizing the perfect set of circumstances that have come together, Parry makes his escape and heads for San Francisco where he hopes to hide out long enough to figure his next step.


Parry’s luck bizarrely continues long enough for him to reach the city. And that’s where his real problems begin.


With Vincent Parry, David Goodis created one of the most paranoid characters imaginable, a man who cannot afford to be wrong about any of the people he encounters in the city while he tries to figure out how to disappear forever. He is paranoid, but he is justifiably paranoid, and Goodis places the reader inside the man’s head for pages at a time, eerily allowing readers to experience that feeing of paranoia for themselves. We literally hear, word-by-word, what is going on inside Vincent Parry’s head as he faces one critical situation after another.


Dark Passage is not a long novel, coming in at around 200 pages depending on which edition you read, but it paints a picture of 1940s San Francisco that is hard to forget. This is a city where life is lived in the shadows and after dark, a place where every one (including the cops) seems to have angle, a place where nothing is exactly as it seems and no stranger should be trusted. It is a city whose underbelly is not confined to only a few blocks, and as Parry moves through it, searching for a safe way out, things begin to happen to him. People die, people fall in love or think they fall in love, and several of them expose the blackness of their own hearts to the world. 


Bottom Line: Dark Passage shows clearly why David Goodis has come to be known as somewhat of a pioneer of American noir novels. His distinctive style, and his feel for troubled characters and city streets, make his writing stand out even in a genre filled with more famous writers. The Library of America volume of five novels, in which this is the first entry, also includes: Nightfall (1947), The Burglar (1953), The Moon in the Gutter (1953), and Street of No Return (1954). 


David Goodis

5 comments:

  1. Hi Sam, What an excellent review of Dark Passage and you make me want to explore David Goodis' writing. I like too the way you describe San Francisco in the 1940's and the whole noir atmosphere. Goodis is one of a number of crime writers from that period, Chester Himes, Jim Thompson come to mind who were originals and their crime novels were dark and psychological. I never did get around to reading Goodis but now thanks to your post, I will.

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    1. Hi, Kathy. I've read a good bit of Thompson's work, but I don't recall reading Himes, so I'll have to check him out. It's easy to see why so main noir movies came out of the forties and fifties to become film classics. There were some really good genre writers in those decades who don't get the credit they deserve today. I love the way that the LOA people are helping to keep that writing alive.

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    2. P.S. I really like your approach to book-blogging, and I look forward to exploring it more.

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  2. You always read the most interesting things. I've never read much in noir fiction, but you make me want to give this author a try. :)

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    1. He's very different, Lark, as far as his style goes, and he pits perfectly in that genre. One of the reasons I'm such a fan of the Library of America books is that they open me up to some reading I've been unaware of up to now. And they make it easy to really explore an author because their books are almost always compilations of several novels or other writing from a single author.

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