Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pop. 1280 (Jim Thompson, 1964)

Straightforward story about a local sheriff of some godforsaken Texas hillbilly county. A simple-minded dude with simple problems concerning women, trying hard to be re-elected since being a local law enforcer is about the only thing in the world he feels he knows how to handle. See "cool lines" below and you'll get the picture.

Of course it's not as simple as that. Although incredibly entertaining and easy to read and follow, Pop. 1280 is anything but a simple read. Story alone is pretty complex with a bunch of characters and events that amount to a fair decrease of the initial population at the end. Plotting is superb and tension build-up together with the final twist are good enough alone for the highest grade this total masterpiece gets from me.

But the real story and detective challenge (for the reader) takes place inside the Nick's head. Who the hell is this guy? At the beginning he's just a simplistic, clueless and almost retarded asshole driven by the desire to be re-elected. With first bodies coming up we soon realize that he's not exactly harmless but still he's almost cute and in a way we are still sympathetic with him. At least I was. Maybe because of his hilariously cunning scheming or his incredible (ab)use of grammar or simply his questionable luck with women. But there's just so much that man can take and it becomes more and more clear that our main man is not exactly right in his head.

And this, for me, is novel's main appeal - was he crazy all along or did something finally push him over the edge? We will get the answer and it will be a creepy one. Also unexpected one, I couldn't see it coming at all.

Pottsville definitely deserves a few words.Cesspool of humanity it is, without a single likeable character around. Liars, cheaters, wife beaters, misogynists, people fucking their relatives (kids not excluded), nymphomaniacs, mentally retarded, simply mean, greedy and ignorant hillbillies (I caught him reading a book!) and most of them total racists. Racism is one of the prevailing themes and Thompson uses it as a tool to emphasize storytelling, sometimes even its humorous parts - I giggled at the scene when Nick spreads around the rumor that his election competitor Sam has "raped a little two year old nigger baby" but stuff like "niggers shouldn't be counted as a regular population since they have no souls" just makes you speechless and leaves you sad. No wonder Nick went a bit crazy in such environment.

Cool thing - and another touch of maestro - is that Pottsville doesn't really feel like some big ass metaphor for America's little towns. At least not at the beginning that is. I had the impression that Thompson simply had fun inventing these oddballs and enjoyed playing with them. But the more story progresses and more darker it gets, it becomes clearer that author is a pessimist whose only suggestion about how to get out of this state of decay (=Pottsville) is to become as insane (religious?) as other people living there. To put into Nick's words: "There can't be no personal hell because there ain't no personal sins. They are all public."

Unforgettable stuff, should be made mandatory reading in primary schools.



Sheriff Nick Corey

Pottsville, 47th largest county of the state (of Texas I assume)

Body count: 6

His mean and bitchy wife Myra plus mistresses Rose and Amy

Blackouts: /

Pottsville has a population of 1280. But it could also be titled Pop. 1274...

Orion edition's cover is hardly worth any commentary. So I'm also including some older cover that I find interesting because it tries to sell this dark masterpiece as a light western comedy. Although, when looking at the guy's facial expression long enough, you'll see a glimpse of psychotic tendencies in his eyes.

Cool lines:  
"Me?" I said. "I do my job all the time."
"You! You stupid silly spineless fool! You don't do anything!"
"Well, that's my job," I said. "Not doing nothing. I mean. That's why people elect me."

What I loved was myself, and I was willing to do anything I god-danged had to to go on lying and cheating and drinking whiskey and screwing women and going to church on Sunday with all the other respectable people.[The Coolest!]

"Can't very well run a town without one, right, Buck?"
"Right! Why if they wasn't any whores, the decent ladies wouldn't be safe on the streets."
"Kee-reck!"  Ken nodded. "Fellas would get all full of piss an' high spirits and take right off after 'em."

"The next time they even look like they're goin' to sass you, you just kick 'em in the balls as hard as you can."
"Huh?" I said. "But - but don't it hurt awful bad?"
"Pshaw, 'course it don't hurt. Not if you're wearin' a good pair o' boots without no holes in 'em."
"That's right," Buck said. "You just be sure you ain't got any toes stickin' out and it won't hurt you a-tall."

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