David Goodis: Black Friday

 

Black Friday by David Goodis is one of those sleepers that very few probably read anymore unless you’re into his works, but to me it gives you that sardonic wit and humor in the character of Hart that just seems to hit me every time I read it. A sort of punch in the kisser that says: “Yea, you’re fucked. So? What of it? Get on, boy; it’s not the worst thing that could happen. There’s much worse… if you know what I mean.” Fatalism – or, comic fatalism; there is a difference. Fatalism is a resigned passive acceptance of doom; comic fatalism is an active participation it it’s dark futurial madness and delirium; knowing the necessity of each moment’s dark portent is a contingent act in the event.

Caught in the movement of necessity one either resists and fails; or, one actively pursues the doom ridden joy of its dark pain as if in pushing it to its limits one might fail and fail better. It’s the turn that says “Stay down, boy, you’ve had enough.” And, you get up, just because that’s who and what you are; undefeated to the end you’re neither a heroic pessimist, nor one of those decadent pity mongers; rather you’re just a creature who – neither stoic nor cynic, meets the eye of death with equanimity and absolute indifference that is not mere asceticism, but is the power and force of a being who has seen into the darkness – and seen it looking back.

“Black Friday” is the epitome of this, following a man on the lam who washes up in Philadelphia without a dollar on him and the cops closing in. The early stages are quite engaging, as Hank drifts around the freezing streets and has to steal an overcoat. But in one of those circumstantial devices that the reader has to roll with, he stumbles across a man who’s just been shot and has $10,000 in his wallet. This brings Hank into the orbit of a gang of burglars, whose safe house proves a good place for him to hide out. But of course, the confined quarters make the hoods cranky and quarrelsome, and the menace of violence lurks under the surface of their communal meals and nightly poker games. Hart’s sardonicism as a self-defense is edgy, but often titters on the ridiculous as it backfires and intensifies the insanity.

Like most of his works there is the twisted movement of his women, too. In this one the stock stereotype of the Madonna and Whore rotate between the two women in the house who after a time fall for Hart and begin that slow dive down into the abyss which is Goodis’s trademark. Doom ridden and eager all of Goodis’s characters move to the beat of some malevolent puppet master whose strings are none other than the dark secret of human consciousness itself; the blind necessity of knowing and being known by the dark force at the heart of existence: what Nietzsche in a better moment would term: “The dark laughter of the gods!”


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