Dark Passage, Nightfall, Black Friday, The Moon in the Gutter, Street of the Lost, Street of No Return: judging by titles alone, a reader might not expect much sunshine from the novels of David Goodis. But it’s not quite accurate to describe these novels as gloomy. There is gloomy, melancholy, and bleak, and then, several leagues below despondent, there is Goodis:
As matters stood, life offered very little aside from an occasional plunge into luxurious sensation, which never lasted for long and even while it happened it was accompanied by the dismal knowledge that it would soon be over.
The speaker of this line, a man named Gerald Gladden, happens to be one of Goodis’s most cheerful characters. Gladden is a career thief, and a venerated presence in The Burglar, the most stunning of the five novels collected by Robert Polito, the editor of this new edition. Unlike many of Goodis’s miserable souls, Gladden actually believes that life has meaning. The main thing to realize, says Gladden, is that every animal, including the human being, is a criminal, and every move in life is a part of the vast process of crime…. The basic and primary moves in life amounted to nothing more than this business of taking, to take it and get away with it. A fish stole the eggs of another fish. A bird robbed another bird’s nest. Among the gorillas, the clever thief became the king of the tribe. Among men… the princes and kings and tycoons were the successful thieves, either big strong thieves or su...