by Jim Thompson
Where had it all started? she wondered. Where the beginning of this detour which had sidetracked civilization into mixing drinks with one hand and stirring up bombs with the other?
Roy’s a grifter, born to a 14-year-old mother and a world where thinking fast and moving faster isn’t a con, it’s just life. His business is personality, and at a young age another short-con operator took him under his wing and showed him the works. Since then Roy’s been getting better and better, making a pile of money as his dissolution increases.
Most of this novel is introspection–a small-time criminal examining himself, his mother, his place in the world. And that’s really the power of the novel, being nothing like the slick, cool con artist studies we’ve seen over and over. Roy’s slowly realizing his money is becoming his jailer, that his carefully constructed front that keeps him protected from other operators and from the police is really a bear trap of his own making.
Things, of course, slide downhill as is typical of Thompson. It’s almost as if Roy isn’t alive on a planet with billions of people, but just with a small handful. His mother. His girlfriend. His memories of the very few people who’d had influence on him. All poison. It’s much like a coming-of-age story, but instead of growing from magic to knowledge to enlightenment, it grows from knowledge to cynicism and despair, with enlightenment glowing at the edges but just out of reach.
And in the warm comfort of the club car, he shivered for them. He shivered for himself.
The book has little action, especially for the con sub-genre, because the real action is the turmoil in Roy’s mind as he both masters his destiny and finds it so unfulfilling. What’s the point of having a destiny? What’s the point of living a life where you’re above everyone else, where anyone and everyone is a mark that you’ll take down if and when you feel like it?
Introspection following the novel is as sad as the introspection of the novel, and you’ll find yourselves with furrowed brow. As you should.
“You don’t get out of things like this–you’re carried out.”