Pulp Psychosis

Levi Stahl has been reading Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280. As with the rest of the best of Thompson's work, this is a deeply unhinged novel that -- being pulp, and beholden to few restraints and to nobody's ideas of good taste -- wanders a few steps beyond anything you can see coming on any given page. A lot of pulp fiction was formulaic hack work, of course, but Thompson was out on the edge. I haven't read anything by him in at least a dozen years, but Levi makes me want to do so again, and soon.

By the way, Thompson was briefly a member or sympathizer of the Communist Party in Oklahoma and wrote at least one or two pieces of proletarian fiction. I have no idea whether his work in that vein is any good or not.

As it happens, a different CP-affiliated figure created another, still more extreme sub-genre of pulp that I have been collecting for a while. While Thompson was a literary wild man, Shaver was just insane. Evidently they both have followings in France, where they probably are taken as embodiments of the deepest levels of the American psyche. Which is, of course, true.   
February 15, 2009 8:46 PM | | Comments (3)



I'm actually quite disturbed by the Shaver stuff. Not by his insanity, but by his popularity and by the fact that I'd never heard of him, despite a seriously misspent youth absorbing the SF/F of the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties.

Bertrand Tavernier filmed a version of Pop. 1280, transplanted to Francophone Africa; it's titled Coup de Torchon and I remember it as very good. Thompson's The Kill-Off was also made into a film that I liked, though it got very limited distribution.

I guess I'm not surprised to learn that Thompson was involved with the Communist Party, since the sheriff in Pop. 1280 consistently points out the hypocrisy of trying to enforce the law in a society that's fundamentally corrupted by inequality. Not that his concern for the downtrodden keeps him from being willing to kill them to save his neck, mind you.

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