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Bad Boy by Jim Thompson

Bad Boy (1953)

by Jim Thompson

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Talk of shabby people and their shabbiness, could there ever be a writer who captures the world of shabbiness more than Jim Thompson? The underbelly's underbelly - the beaten down, the psychopathic, the desperate, carousing around in their filthy cars, eating slop and drinking booze in their filthy houses; where brutal, cruel men and women pound on one another with their foul-mouths and fists. Is it any wonder that in such a world out-of-control violence is so prevalent? All twenty-nine of Jim Thompson's novels are loaded with misdeeds - beatings, shootings, kidnapping, theft, murder, just to name a few. What can anybody expect in novels featuring characters with mean-spirited, dirtball personalities, personalities filled to the brim with psychic mud?

And one may ask: What was the background of the author of these twisted, dark tales of crime? Fortunately for us, Jim Thompson wrote his autobiographical Bad Boy, the story of his growing up in Oklahoma and Texas during the very early years of the 20th century.

Bad Boy receives five stars not because it is great literature on the level of Thomas Mann or F. Scott Fitzgerald, but because it is Jim Thompson's hard-boiled, pretension-free account of his early life in all its raw, sometimes tender, and sometimes humorous detail. Here is an example of the type of episode we encounter in the book, this particular episode involves Jim, about age ten, teaming up with his two older cousins: "One of our more successful enterprises was the electrification of certain privy seats around the town. My cousins did the wiring, and supplied the dry cells. I, lying with them in a nearby weed patch, was allowed to throw the switch at the crucial moment. There are no statistics, I suppose, on the speed with which people leave outdoor johns. But I am certain that if there were, the victims of our rural electrification project would still be holding the record."

There is a home-spun quality about young Jim's observations of friends and family. Jim describes his grandfather in loving detail and starts out by saying: "Grandfather, or "Pa" as he was known to the entire clan, was an old man from my earliest recollection - just how old even he did not know. Orphaned shortly after birth in a period of indifferent vital statistics, he had been handed around from one family to another, worked always, fed seldom, and beaten frequently. For all that his memory could tell him he had been born big, raw-boned and doing a man's work."

Jim worked a strong of menial jobs, bellboy being one, a job making a deep impression on how the future crime author viewed life. Here is Jim's description: "It was the bellboy who was always in closest contact with this hurly-burly world, a world always populated by strangers of unknown background and unpredictable behavior. Alone and on his own, with no one to turn to for advice or help, he had to please and appease those strangers: the eccentric, the belligerent, the morbidly depressed. He had to spot the potential suicide and sooth the fighting drunk and satisfy the whims of those who were determined not to be satisfied. And always, no matter how he felt, he had to do those things swiftly and unobtrusively. Briefly, he had to be nervy and quick-thinking."

Although Jim Thompson writes of the sweetness in his youth, make no mistake, right from the start, Jim had to do battle with bouts of hunger and a craving for hard liquor. Life was tough and a boy growing up had to be nervy and quick-thinking. And once a man, nervy and quick-thinking both became pressing necessities for Jim Thompson, who was poor and obliged to support a family and, on top of this, had to find time to fulfill his passion for writing fiction. ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375700307, Paperback)

"I was going to catch hell whatever I did. I might as well try to enjoy myself."
--Jim Thompson

At thirteen Jim Thompson was learning how to smoke cigars and ogle burlesque girls under the tutelage of his profane grandfather. A few years later, he was bellhopping at a hotel in Fort Worth, where he supplemented his income peddling bootleg out of the package room. He shuddered out the DTs as a watchman on a West Texas oil pipeline. He outraged teachers, cheated mobsters, and almost got himself beaten to death by a homicidal sheriff's deputy. And somewhere along the way, Thompson became one of the greatest crime writers America has ever known.

In this uproarious autobiographical tale, the author of After Dark, My Sweet and Pop. 1280 tells the story of his chaotic coming of age and reveals just where he acquired his encyclopedic knowledge of human misbehavior. Bad Boy is a bawdy, brawling book of reprobates--and an unfettered portrait of a writer growing up in the Southwest of the Roaring Twenties.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:38 -0400)

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