Unless you’re a fan of the genre American noir fiction — the pulp-y dime store crime novels of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s that eventually birthed the film style bearing that same noir name — the name David Goodis probably won’t be that familiar to you. But if, like us, you have a vested interest in preserving Philly’s deepest and darkest deep darkness, you should, by all means, check him out. Goodis was born in Philadelphia, and died in Philadelphia, with stopoffs in Hollywood and NYC in between. If you’re a native Philadelphian reading between the lines there and thinking, “Oh, I get it: High highs, low lows, the Philly curse,” well, yes.
The desperate crime novels that Goodis wrote, though, exclusively concerned themselves with the lowest of lows: The down-on-their luck have a way of getting unluckier (or dead altogether), and the dead often somehow manage to get dead-er. And it should come as little surprise that, over a career span of over 15 novels, Goodis drew extensively on his experiences in the pre-and-post-WWII-era slums of Philly, from North Philly to Port Richmond to the rivers. It was a place that he romanticized, but a place from which he couldn’t seem to get unstuck, either. (Sound familiar? Jesus.) Goodis did manage to get some props during his lifetime — his novel Down There was adapted for François Truffaut’s Shoot The Piano Player and Humphrey Bogart starred in the film adaptation of Dark Passage, among others — but Goodis is also set to get a posthumous boost into an increasingly popular noir canon of mid-century American fiction. Library Of America just released Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s, which compiles some of Goodis’s best work. And tonight, Robert Polito, who edited that tome and is currently at work on what will most likely be the definitive bio of Goodis, will speak at the Free Library. (There will also be a 5:45PM screening of 1957’s The Burglar, based on Goodis’s novel of the same name.) What you’ll find in all of Goodis’s stuff is a dark, seductive kind of misery, to be sure, but in the bits that appealed to us most, there is also a very real window into our own unbelievably drunk, fucked-up and sad Philadelphia ancestry. It’s oddly exciting.