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A Swell-Looking Babe by Jim Thompson
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A Swell-Looking Babe (1954)

by Jim Thompson

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Jim Thompson was not an ordinary writer. Although widely acknowledged as one of the true masters of the classic noir genre, there are few writers, even today, who have successfully channeled Thompson's style of writing, but many do try. "A Swell-Looking Babe" was his thirteenth full-length novel and was originally published in 1954. It has all the classic elements of a fifties pulp novel, including a gorgeous femme fatale -- Marcia Hillis, a gangster with his own army of thugs - Tug Trowbridge, a protagonist who at first appears to be nothing more than an ordinary guy caught up in things he never anticipated - Bill "Dusty" Rhoads. It has murder, gunfire, armed robbery, attempted rape, incest, and blackmail. However, don't be conned by thinking this is anything like an ordinary pulp novel.

It is told through Dusty's point of view, although not necessarily through Dusty's voice, and Dusty may not be the most honest narrator available. Is Dusty just a blundering bellboy supporting his prematurely senile father? Was Dusty conned by his young mother and her lingerie into climbing into bed with her or was he a filthy monster as she claimed? How did his father lose his job with the school and how did his father become the emasculated fool that he became? Does Dusty merely fall prey to the hood Tug's machinations or has Dusty anticipated it all himself? Is Dusty merely conned by the tricky showgirl or does he allow himself to be conned because it suits his needs?

Is this really a pulp novel or is it some strange facsimile of such a novel, placing the reader in this strange world of Dusty's creation, a world revolving around a hotel with a few odd characters in it and Dusty's home where his father is doddering around and no one seems wise to how slick Dusty really is? Or is Dusty the simpleton he appears to be, reasoning things out slowly and cautiously?
Even the robbery in this book is not at its heart, not so much as the shocking oedipal complex is the center of it all. Thompson had a talent for creating the oddest, most eccentric characters. The people who inhabit his books are not just outside the fringes of society, but they do things that make you gasp out loud. His novels and this one is no exception feel as odd and strange as David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" movie. They just leave you feeling a bit uncomfortable. ( )
1 vote DaveWilde | Sep 22, 2017 |
Another twisted, spiraling fever-dream from Big Jim Thompson. All the usual suspects are in attendance: Unreliable Narrator. Dubious Femme Fatale. Poor Judgement. Lofty, Unreachable Aspirations. Descent Into Madness. Betrayal. Naivete. Dismal Fortune. Rampant Criminality.

Just like the last few I read, this one left me feeling in dire need of a morality car wash. I always close a JT book feeling soiled, ill-used, exhausted, and thankful to be who I am. But I eat them up ravenously. It's a madcap race to the finish to see just exactly -how- the morally bankrupt, half-smart, terminally unlucky protagonist is going to get screwed.

I can count on one hand the number of people to whom I'd recommend this delightful trash. But if it's in your wheelhouse, there is no one who can serve it up quite like Big Jim Thompson. Depravity writ large and the lowest highbrow crime fiction I would dare to countenance. ( )
1 vote Daninsky | Aug 19, 2017 |
I really liked this at the start, but as the main character's mental health declined, so did my interest. It seemed like all the characters are pretty feeble minded, and not very likable. Kind of made it hard for me to care about them. ( )
  Stahl-Ricco | Jan 23, 2016 |
The Oedipus Complex, Thompson-style.
Young college drop-out Bill "Dusty" Rhodes is working as a bellboy at the Manton Hotel until he can get his life situated so he can go back to school. But the money is good and the job is easy and Dusty has his sick old father to support. He loves his dad but doesn't understand where the old man spends all the money Dusty gives him. Then the swell-looking babe, a gray-haired older woman, checks into the hotel and Dusty can't stop thinking about how beautiful she is and how much she reminds him of his deceased mom.
Another hotel guest happens to be the local mob boss who Dusty owes a favor to and dad's lawyer, a wily little guy, keeps popping up.
Everybody wants something, and in Thompson's books you know they'll get what they deserve. I enjoy his books because Thompson could delve into taboo subjects, which was really his forte, in a way that fit in with the pulp writing of the time while still writing clearly enough to shock modern readers. In his novels he went back to the subject of insanity over and over again while giving each character their own reason for their insanity and their own warped perceptions. While this novel is good, The Killer Inside Me is Thompson's best. ( )
3 vote mstrust | Feb 6, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jim Thompsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gifford, BarryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
KirwanCover Artsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, GeoffreyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679733116, Paperback)

The Manton looks like a respectable hotel. Dusty Rhodes looks like a selfless young man working as a bellhop. And the woman in 1004 looks like an angel. But sometimes looks can kill, as Jim Thompson demonstrates in this vision of the crime novel as gothic.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:01 -0400)

It was supposed to be only a temporary job-something to pay the bills until Dusty could get his feet back on the ground and raise enough money for medical school. After all, there's nothing wrong with being a bellboy at a respectable hotel like the Mantonthat-that is, until she came along. Marcia Hillis. The perfect woman. Beautiful. Experienced. Older and wiser. The only woman to ever measure up to that other her-the one whose painful rejection Dusty can't quite put from his mind. But while Dusty has designs on Marcia, Marcia has an agenda of her own. One that threatens to pull the Manton inside-out, use Dusty up for all he's worth and leave him reeling and on the run, the whole world at his heels. A richly-imagined crime narrative of the Oedipal and betrayal, A Swell-Looking Babe is Thompson at his very best-a cornerstone in Thompson's enduring legacy as the Dimestore Dostoyevsky of American fiction.… (more)

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