Pick-Up

by Charles Willeford

Sober, I was always embarrassed about my appearance, but I didn’t intend to stay sober very long.

An extraordinarily bleak tale, even for the noir genre, Pick-Up is the story of a failed artist, now a grill man in San Francisco, working just enough to make sure he’s able to keep up his gin habit. A beautiful, drunken young woman walks into the diner and Harry quits his job in order to drink with her, immediately and constantly. The two have a crash of a relationship at the bottom of the bottle, and enter into a suicide pact to rid themselves of the world and be together eternally.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but it unfolds much better naturally than in summary. The story is dark, suggesting things about life that are generally best left unsaid, though much of this occurs between the lines; it’s dangerous to look too closely, and much of this book does exactly that. Some are going to consider this book a meditation on the negative effects of alcoholism, but those guys just missed the story, and if you listen closely you can hear the whoosh as it sails over their heads. Alcohol wasn’t the disease, it was the treatment. And that’s exactly why this book was so dark.

This is a fascinating subject, but delving any deeper isn’t really suitable for discussion in writing. These things are best discussed in bars where they can be quickly forgotten.

Another champion entry from Library of America’s American Noir set, Pick-Up is an outstanding novel. Anyone whose thoughts even occasionally, remotely approach suicidal, you might want to stay out of this one’s way, for here lies the bottom rung of the world’s ladder.

In that instant I loved her more than I had ever loved her before. Such faith and trust were almost enough to take the curse out of the world. Almost.

4+ stars

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