The basis for the (excellent) Truffault movie SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER, DOWN THERE by David Goodis is one of his very best novels, but it is also proof of the widespread belief that he basically told the same story over and over. If you like that story (I do), you’ll love his books.
A former concert pianist is now playing in a cruddy bar, feeling nothing, having no connections, and liking it that way. One night one of his two no-good criminal brothers shows up, with two mob hit men on his tail. Our hero doesn’t want to get involved, but he does–he knocks over some empty boxes so his brother can have a head-start. That one action signals that he is willing to become involved in the doings of other people again, and it is the beginning of disaster for those who want to help him.
I first read this maybe twenty years ago, and it’s nice to see it holds up to a rereading. Goodis focused on the hopeless and the lost in all of his books. Here he creates the ultimate of the type, someone who keeps pushing people away, because based on past history, he knows what will happen if he gets close. But someone stirs something in him–the book could be a misanthrope’s warning about letting your emotions guide your actions–so he opens up just a little, admits he feels something for someone, and can’t stop himself from trying again to live in the world of other people.
The story unfolds in a way that isn’t as clean as BLACK FRIDAY. Our hero moves forward in fits and starts, and his ‘heroic’ action leaves plenty of room for the reader’s consideration of the morality of what happens. (MILD SPOILER Was he left with no choice but to do what he does, or did he create the situation that ends in the alley near the bar?)
While BLACK FRIDAY is my current favorite of his, this might be his best novel.