After Dark, My Sweet
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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. ;)
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?
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..
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?
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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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