Saturday, June 03, 2006

Roughneck, by Jim Thompson

(hb; 1954)


Roughneck reads like a thinly veiled autobiography. Spanning eleven years, it opens in August 1929, in Oklahoma City, with Thompson, his mother and his sister broke and starving, with a broke-down car. Jim soon takes a series of dead-end jobs (e.g., morgue night attendant; a “batch man” in a bakery; building an ill-advised oil rig), and hobnobs with some curious people like: Trixie, a moronic, tie-selling whore with over-sized feet; Allie Ivers, a confidence man and friend of long-standing; a psychic farmer who knows when people need help, and quietly arranges it beforehand.

By 1936, Thompson is married, with three kids, and getting paid for his writing, well on his way to leaving behind the bad luck that's plagued him most of his life – or so he thinks.

A sense of quirky fatalism saturates this work. It's often laugh-out-loud funny, in a blackish way, with a strong comedic rhythm (Thompson sets up the situations, then louses them up with good intentions).

Good read, this, and different than most of Thompson's other works (which is primarily noir). It's not his best, but it's clever, raw and honest.

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