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Roughneck ()

There comes a moment near the end of this immensely entertaining memoir where Jim Thompson has handed in a draft of one of his first novels to a New York publisher.  The draft is passed off to the highborn son of a Hollywood couple, with one book under his belt, for comment.  He advises that Thompson needs to "meet the stark realities of existence at first hand", rather than read about them and then try writing about them.  Thompson collapses in laughter, and the reader cringes, because the preceding pages have detailed his hardscrabble existence starting out as an aspiring writer in Depression plagued Oklahoma and Nebraska.  From working in a funeral home to making collections, from riding the rails to roughnecking in the oilfields, he portrays the pratfalls and pitfalls of trying to keep a job, a family and self respect in a world where hunger and homelessness lurk around every corner and any employer wields absolute power over the hapless, helpless men they employee.  By the time he receives this admonition he is starving, living on whiskey, trying to get enough money to send for his dying father and his stranded family and has just written a novel in ten days.  He's seen so much of the "stark realities of existence" that one wonders he survived.  But survive he did and went on to become one of the great noir writers of all time.  In this slender memoir, filled with humor and devoid of bitterness, we see that much of his dark vision and many of his cast of characters (whores, con men, psychotics, swindlers, the dishonest rich, corrupt police, etc.) were drawn directly from the years he spent living a life on the edge.

This is a really interesting, gut wrenching book that will have you rooting for Thompson to succeed as he struggles, uncomplaining, to become a writer in the face of daunting odds and back breaking hardship.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Jim Thompson (3 books reviewed)
Book-related and General Links:
    -The Killer Beside Me: The Jim Thompson Resource Page
    -BIO: (Vintage Books)
    -BIBLIO: Bibliography
    -READERS GUIDE: The Killers (Vintage Books)
    -REVIEW: of Savage Night by Jim Thompson (Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW: of    Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson (Brad Tyer, Hot Wired)
    -REVIEW: of SAVAGE ART A Biography of Jim Thompson. By Robert Polito.(Tony Hilfer, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: A Tale of Pulp and Passion: The Jim Thompson Revival (Lawrence Block, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: The Gentrification of Crime (Luc Sante, NY Review of Books)
    -Crime Fiction as Literature? (Monash University)
    -Crime Stories: Criminology and Fiction
    -FILM REVIEW: of Coup de Torchon  (John Alderman, Hot Wired)
    -Hard Boiled:  The online reference site for all things noir