Thursday, November 28, 2013

Support your local sociopath

Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson, 1964.

As one of the writers who defines literary noir, Jim Thompson found the perfect balance of black comedy and bleak irony with this novel. If you have read his best known book The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280 is also a variation on the theme of a small-town sheriff who ends up presiding over a murderous roundup of most of the story's other characters. In the case of this book, the carnage is accompanied with a leavening dose of low comedy and a feast of sociopolical satire from the point of view of the sociopathic Nick Corey, High Sheriff of Pottsdale.

This comic tale is something that might be produced by an unholy union of Mark Twain and Jack the Ripper's mother. The sheriff juggles three women, possessed of insatiable sex drives, who are amusingly offset by his attempts to accommodate all of them without getting caught and while not missing breakfast. The passions that fuel the characters have escalated to the level of mini-religious apocalypse by novel's end. Only then do we realize Nick's comic objectivity conceals a frightening psychosis. This is also seen when as the only character with sympathetic feelings for the downtrodden Negroes, he dispatches a loyal old black servant with a shotgun practically on principle.

It is interesting to consider this work in light of the influence that Texas has had in terms of national politics over the last fifty years since it was written. We are still a killer nation and Texas, which is the evident setting of the book, epitomizes this. The annual number of gun murders in Texas (1246 in 2010) is approximately the population of the small town where this novel is set. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has nothing on the more efficient bloodbath that greets us daily from the "red" states.

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