Monday, July 09, 2012
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
I've just finished book three in the Beach Noir Book Club, and it's, well.... you know how they say certain hardboiled writing is like a punch to the gut? Well this is more like if your own mother punched you in the gut while your father hit you over the head with a tire iron. If you find that image a little bleak, then you have an idea of the utter unremitting bleakness of this book. My god, the bleak!
So we all know the plot -- a marathon dance contest, the Depression, a girl named Gloria who hates herself and wants to die, a protagonist named Robert who dances because he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from.... almost no one in the contest does. Most of them are literally dancing for food and shelter. Things happen, people move in and out of the contest. The participants and organizers are revealed to be liars, cheats, adulterers, murders. And at the end of all... well, may god have mercy on your soul.
The first thing that struck me about Horses was the uncanny similarity to certain aspects of The Hunger Games, which I also read this year. I mean, they even have sponsors in the contest, who provide dancers with things like clothes and shoes. And they're hungry... soul crushingly hungry.
The other thing that hit home was the seediness of the beachside pavilion. Beaches are amazingly dark places and they turn on a dime -- one minute, sunny and glorious, but watch your back when the sun goes down. Then beaches are loci of murder, dumping grounds for bodies as the sea takes back her dead. And have you ever seen a beach town when it starts to rain? People running off the boardwalk with towels over their heads? It already looks like a crime scene....
They Shoot Horses is unforgettable. The imagery of the seedy seaside danse macabre in the darkest days of the depression is forever etched onto me. The swiftness, the unsentimentality of it is shattering. Characters are only sketchily drawn, because they are barely human. Gloria is a wounded animal, snarling. Robert drifts through the book because he has nowhere else to go. There's an amazing scene where he talks to one of his heroes, Frank Borzage (Robert is an aspiring film director, with great taste) and at the end of their conversation, nothing happens. No one is going to pick you up and carry you off and make your Hollywood dreams come true.
Like I said: bleak.
So, book club geeks -- thoughts?