Sunday, July 13, 2014

Review: "Pop. 1280" by Jim Thompson

After reading the Jim Thompson novels The Killer Inside me (which I loved), Savage Night (which I didn’t) and now Pop. 1280, I have finally pinpointed a common theme in Thompson’s work that I feel makes him one of the great 20th Century American writers. Within the framework of bloody noir tales, Thompson touches on a deeply ingrained human flaw that is not only in our national history but our human history. We, as a race, tend to value surface level beauty and talent more so than we do interior qualities. We reward those people who are boisterous, cynical and charismatic who might not have much of an emotional or intellectual depth, and treat those who are more thoughtful, trusting and hardworking individuals as lower class citizens, or worse yet, simply tools of the charismatic individuals. We are impatient, and expect quick results that extroverts give us immediately and introverts don’t. Thompson embodies this flaw with two very similar narrators, with Lou Ford in The Killer Inside Me, and Nick Corey in this novel. Each is a person whose distaste for human life and willingness to end it is just barely covered up by a painfully put on performance of a jovial, ineffectual man who seems like he wouldn’t “piss if their pants were on fire.” They get away with horrible crimes simply by putting on these masks. They not only get away with it, they are rewarded for it by their plans falling into the right place, at least until the end. There isn’t a main conflict in Pop. 1280, so much as a few days in the life of Nick Corey, the Sherriff of Pottsville County, Texas. Most people in town view him as a bumpkin, but the reader knows the truth. We know that Nick really hates his life in Pottsville. He is married to a woman named Myra, whose idea of marriage is truly a nightmare. He is having two affairs, one with a woman named Rose, whose husband is a surly drunk, and Amy, the woman he was in love with before his marriage to Myra, both of which are constantly threatened to be exposed by Myra’s sneaky yet mentally retarded brother Lennie. And to add to Nick’s problems, he can’t seem to stop killing people. Whether it is two pimps that he shoots on the advice of another sheriff or a black man caught in his bloody web, Nick treats murder like a necessary evil he commits to ensure his upward mobility. This is less dark than The Killer Inside Me, with no brutal beatings of women, but despite it’s comedic nature, there is a dark undercurrent of sadness and horror for not only Nick’s victims but himself as well. He is all but alone in his murderous plight, willing to give it all up to be one with the human race. But sadly, that is not the case, and it all ends tragically. If you haven’t read Jim Thompson’s novels, this would be a good place to start. He is a true underappreciated gem in American literature.

Rating: 5/5

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