Thursday, 22 July 2010


John Harvey has a very acute little piece on his Mellotone70Up blog (link to it here) about writing an introduction to Serpent Tail's upcoming reissue of Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? in which he defines the fatalism in McCoy which makes him so popular in France.

I wrote a quick response and posted it there, but I thought I'd share that response with you here, and add a few small second thoughts...

Very nice piece–and interesting speculation. I havent read No Pockets For A Shroud (though I should have by now) but it seems to fit in with a number of works, going back to Jack London's Iron Heel and including President Fu Manchu, which speculate on proto-fascism in America: I wonder whether it’s the fatalism or the politics (or a little of both) that relate to its relative lower status?

There is that strange disconnect, more evident in noirish films, between the obviously corrupt society it portrays, and the triumph of the system (more than the little guy who is the nominal hero) which of course is what is corrupt in the first place. The honest are exceptions, and honesty is a flexible thing in the real world, and that’s what makes McCoy and Hammett (and George V Higgins) work…

Certainly McCoy is arguably the most fatalistic of all of them, which is what makes him great. In fact, you might call him at his strongest nilhilistic, which would also explain the French attraction to his work.

You can link to my take on the spectactularly good I Should Have Stayed Home at Irresistible Targets for March 2009, here. I do believe it was an influence on Wilder and Sunset Boulevard and it's certainly up there with the best Hollywood novels, of West or Fitzgerald or whomever (though it's hard to see Fitzgerald as proletarian, even in the Pat Hobby stories!). O’Hara is sadly overlooked today, there's an off-the-wall comparison to made with him and the Mailer of Deer Park.

Footnote: I'm not sure John can get away with blaming it all on Sun Ra, but with Sun Ra, all things are possible. A college friend of mine once sat in Ken McIntyre's office while he talked to Sun Ra on the phone, and afterwards I asked him what Ken called him, Sun? Mr Ra? Herman Blount (his original name)? Wasn't it a dilemma? No, my friend answered. He just called him 'man'.

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