Monday, January 21, 2013

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

Horace McCoy
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

Open Road Media e-book, 2012
(originally published in 1948)

Ralph Cotter, a criminal with a university degree, with the help of another convict’s sister, bribes a guard and escapes from prison, in a shootout killing his escape partner. Holiday, sister of the deceased, and Jinx, another criminal, help Cotter to hide in a town where no one knows Cotter and Cotter does not know anyone. Cotter and his associates need the money to hide on, and Cotter, relying on his sophisticated mind and unprecedented audacity, immediately decides to rob a grocery store, which is directly in front of the garage, which belongs to a shady but funky character that helped the criminals escape. The robbery is successful, except for the fact that the robbers kill market’s owner. With six thousand dollars Cotter plans to run, but the garage owner coward Mason turnes him in to police and leads the detectives directly to the apartment where Cotter and Holiday live. One of the detectives is Inspector, and, feeling that these cops are corrupt, Cotter bribes them from his share of the loot. But instead of fleeing, dodgy criminal devises a cunning plan, and the plan works so that the Inspector is now hooked by the dangerous criminal.

Pulpster and Hollywood actor and screenwriter Horace McCoy is mostly known as the author of the novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, but Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is another must-read from this great writer. This book has every right to be called noir. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is a distorted story of the ascent and fall of heinous character, smug, selfish, cruel, placing himself above everyone.

We have seen many nefarious types for more than half century of noir, but Ralph Cotter stands out by the fact that he was an educated man, versed in philosophy and logic, and when necessary, able to be so well-mannered and highly moral gentleman that even the most cautious people fall under his spell.

This is how Cotter describes Holiday, when he first meets her:

«She smiled at me, unbuckling her trousers but not unbuttoning the fly, slipping them off, arching her shoulders against the back seat to raise her buttocks out of the way. Her legs were slim and white. I could see the skin in minutest detail, the pigments and pores and numberless valley-cracks that crisscrossed above her knees, forming patterns that were as lovely and intricate as snow crystals. And there was something else I saw too out of the corner of my left eye, and I tried not to look, not because I didn't want to, not because of modesty, but only because when you had waited as long as I had to see one of these you want it to reveal itself at full length, sostenuto. I tried not to look, but I did look and there it was, the Atlantis, the Route to Cathay, the Seven Cities of Cibola ... »

Disgust to everithing seeps through the pores in individual sentences and whole paragraphs of the novel («You fools, you mere passers of food, I was thinking; I shall not be saddled with you for long, I shall not be saddled with you for longer than is absolutely necessary »). The novel was ahead of its time, therein lies its appeal, it is not out of date even by now. Most of the books of the time are not that would be too simple plotwise, but they may seem funny and toy by now. This simplicity is not here: update several details, and the novel could easily occur in our days, and we still would have marveled by audacity of this dark novel. McCoy even stylistically is twenty years ahead of his time: in the late 60's not all writers have ventured to use such words as «faggot» and «nigger» in their prose. McCoy doesn’t avoid scenes of beating women and sex scenes. If you are to show your character, then show it from the front and in profile and in full height.

Cotter’s problem is that he, with his mind and life skills, sees American society far and wide and does not want to have nothing in common with this society. But the only alternative to this society, for Cotter, is to become a criminal. And what Cotter would not do, what would he not plan, no matter how different he is from the others, he is still on the one level with other punks and thugs, stupid and short-sighted.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye has not received as much attention as it deserves. This book can and should be read and re-read.

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