After Dark, My Sweet

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After Dark, My Sweet

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1Eurydice
Set 1, 2006, 9:27pm

While my own copy is late, as expected, the group read of After Dark, My Sweet - theoretically - begins today.

Many of you are undoubtedly more familiar with Thompson than I am, but I risk a few comments anyway:

Jim Thompson was born in 1906, and (as James) shares his name with a martyr, a Scottish poet, a fighter, jurist, a one-time candidate for the Senate (who happens to be his father), and more; as Jim, he's parallelled by a designer who revived the Thai silk trade. So much for common names...

Wikipedia's article on him is helpful; a less lurid version (or experience) than the fan sites. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Thompson_%28writer%29 ) To their list of links, one might add http://www.eskimo.com/~noir/btitles/thompson/index.shtml . Random House is a nice single stop for looking at his novels: http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=30970 . (If someone wants to remind me how to make more elegant links, please do!)

I realize devilbuny's read the whole thing, but wonder if anyone has some initial reactions? Or comments on the opening, from devilbuny or others who've read through it? You can at least intrigue me, while I wait. ;)

2tartalom
Set 2, 2006, 8:55am

just started it today - boy, its nasty! :)

3Cheshire-Cat
Set 2, 2006, 9:46am

Ahhh I can't think of anything to talk about that won't spoil it for those who aren't done yet. Well here is something. In the very first chapter our narrator William "Kid" Collins - also called Collie tells us a brief history of himself and how he has been in and out of mental institutions. His classification at each is almost the same and reads "Mild Criminal tendencies, mild multiple neuroses, psychosis and Korsakoff induced by shock (I looked that one up - it is amnesia)." Now something to think about as you read - does he really have a mental problem, or is he faking it to get free food and a bed to sleep in now and then??

4etrainer
Set 2, 2006, 3:06pm

I've finished it as well. How shall we structure our discussion? Chapter by chapter? Or some other way?

Based on Collins' reaction to the action in the first chapter, how do you think this character will develop through the rest of the book?

5tartalom
Editado: Set 3, 2006, 1:22pm

early impressions - well the noir is establised in the opening sentences - drifter, edge of town. I notice that his classification card says "extremely handsome" as in approach with caution, extremely handsome.
I can never read books like this without casting the movie in my head. At the moment Ava Gardner is diefinitely female lead, somebody like Fred McMurray is Uncle Bud. Haven't thougt of anyone suitable for The Kid yet, Marlon Brando circa 1952 was 'extremely handsome" and slightly psychotic..

6Eurydice
Set 6, 2006, 2:53am

Thanks for the 'casting notes,' tartalom. I'm looking forward to comparing them with my own impressions, once the book arrives. - Which should be any day.

Chapter by chapter is fine with me; those of you who've read it may have some other thought. I'm open to almost anything - so fire away.

We can create separate threads for different sections of the book (say, dividing it by four), and posting then can occur around each section as people are ready, or here when the comments are more general, or (when we all seem to have read it) a summing up. Perhaps one of you would start a thread for the first quarter of the book?

7Eurydice
Editado: Out 9, 2006, 5:25am

Alright: coming back to it quite late, my own feeling is there's no reason not to take this as a whole. It's slender enough. I'll toss off some general avenues we could take and a few specific questions, to start with.

What do you all think about the attitudes to mental illness in the book? Or about the diagnoses' validity in Collins' case (here taking up devilbuny's question, which is relevant to the ending)?

Thompson devotes a lot of space to alcoholism in After Dark, My Sweet. I'd read in one article that it was an almost omnipresent force in his work, yet overtly 'airbrushed out.' Here it's not. It's wide open, and he has a lot to say. Impressions, on what he does say, or on its autobiographical sidelights, anyone?

He also gets in some swipes at medicine, at mid-century care facilities, and ineffectual do-gooders. Comments, there? Do you think this is justified? And what kind of world-view does it imply?

How do you feel about the book's tone? Its plotting? The characters? Is it well conceived, or well constructed? Does it mirror an underground world effectively - or successfully hold up its own, imagined version of that reality? Does he enhance your understanding of this kind of crime and its (possible) perpetrators? (Or, as seems to be one point, your sympathy for them?)

The symbolism of the grass-cutting has already been mentioned. Anyone want to elaborate on that, and how it plays out throughout the book?

Near the end, there's a plot-turn, and an issue, which was brought up to me and which I'd like to discuss once I'm sure everybody's ready.

Lastly: what did you like (or dislike) most about After Dark, My Sweet? What - if anything - surprised you?

Apologies if this is a bit rough around the edges. Go with whatever appeals to you, and I'll chime in when I hear a response.

8cogitno
Editado: Out 10, 2006, 11:28am

After Dark, My Sweet surprised me. It is not as relentlessly nihilistic as Pop, 1280, The Killer Inside Me or The Grifters: the only other Jim Thompson novels I've read. The point of differentiation touches on the question of mental health which Eurydice has mentioned twice and with which devilbunny teased us at the start of the thread.

In the other 3 novels, the central characters could all reasonably be described psychopathic, and a couple as schizophrenic as well. All were headed towards mental dissolution, towards the complete destruction of their humanity. The "Kid" is different, heading towards a kind of awakening: the integration of his psyche - or at least trying to. I don't have the technical skills to reasonably criticise the "official" diagnosis, but given his intent to integrate with normality, and the sacrifice he concocts at the end, I'd guess the diagnosis is overblown.

I'd further guess that his back-story would show environment playing a critical role in his early mental and emotional fragmentation. I have no real evidence for this other than the "Kid's" fatalistic acceptance of fault during therapy: he says to Doc Goldman:

"I remember the time I had three spine taps in one month, and the time I had the electric jolt treatment and the insulin-shock routine. There wasn't anything wrong with the treatment, you know. It wasn't the treatment's fault that I couldn't focus my eyes or stand up or remember my own name. That was mine; I just didn't react properly"

This passage implies a history. It also bespeaks of formulaic institutional treatment indifferent to causality.

The 1950's was a decade of desperate normalcy. A generation Jone's. It was an understandable, almost an historical imperative. The 'Kid' never really had a chance. The world couldn't really afford to give him one.

Could someone please explain th grass cutting symbolism to a dolt!

9Eurydice
Out 10, 2006, 12:01pm

My message seems to have been lost. If this duplicates, sorry:

I remember the time I had three spine taps in one month, and the time I had the electric jolt treatment and the insulin-shock routine. There wasn't anything wrong with the treatment, you know. It wasn't the treatment's fault that I couldn't focus my eyes or stand up or remember my own name. That was mine; I just didn't react properly.

I read this differently. As someone often told I haven't reacted to treatment (or diagnoses) properly - albeit they weren't mental, medicine shows a lot of the same assumptions throughout, and the means cited are physical - I read in it the same savage irony I saw in other passages. Let me look them out later, lest it help clarify the intended tone.

Nonethless, you made some excellent points, not least in calling the '50s' normalcy 'desperate'. In multiple ways, it seems to have been exactly that. And often no more than a veneer.

Its fragility, deceptive qualities, and thinness seems to be one of Thompson's themes. (Says the new reader.)

10Eurydice
Out 10, 2006, 11:01pm

Just a note: I can't post further on this tonight, as I hoped, but will tomorrow.

11cogitno
Out 11, 2006, 10:32am

I look forward to reading what you have to say, whether it's tomorrow or a week from tomorrow. I am not quite with you yet. I am still stuck in the "Kid's" shoes, while you are clearly looking at it from Jim Thompson's perspective.

Did anyone else get the uncomfortable initial impression that Doc Goldman's compassion was the disguise of a sexual predator? It stayed with me while ever the 'Doc' was present.

12tartalom
Out 11, 2006, 11:00am

Doc Goldman - Yep - I picked that up too. It was the only reason I could find to explain his behaviour.

13oakes
Out 18, 2006, 1:54am

I picked that up too but am not sure whether it doesn't stem from my latent memories of the most recent movie. We moderns are probably more "sensitive" to that sort of thing, which may mean either that we are sharper or have an inappropriate bias.

14mstrust
Jul 18, 2008, 9:33pm

just had to throw in my two cents, as I've just finished this book. I got the feeling that Collie's main problem was being a manic depressive. Probably from when Doc mentions that his mood should have started on an upswing since the time they had met previously.
Interesting to see that others saw Doc as a sexual predator, which I didn't pick up on during the read, but looking back on it-good call. I thought he might have career ambitions and would eventually turn Collie over to the state after studying him. Boy, was I wrong!

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