STATS: BOOK / JIM THOMPSON / 149pp. / 1953
I feel like human beings play a very small part in Jim Thompson’s character repertoire, or else the physical and behavioral bounds that most writers would consider constitutive of human being mean very little to Jim Thompson, and take up very little of his headspace. He’s just not into it, making anyone be human and not a kind of slithering slug midget cannibal rapist twerp also, or instead.
This is one of his best — weirdest, grimmest, most surprising, most beyond the noir cave he’s usually shooed toward the back of — books ever. Instead of trying to come out the front of that cave he worms and gnaws his way through the back and comes out into some other place, another cave maybe, behind it. I like that other place back there, there’s protein in it.
SAVAGE NIGHT gives us some 30-year-old guy hiding out as a “student,” liberally defined, in a small town in I think New York State, renting a room, as Thompsonites usually do, and guilty of murder or abduction or theft or bludgeoning someone to death or all of the above, as Thompsonites usually are. But this guy’s got something very else going on too. He’s shrinking, compressing, collapsing, falling apart in some wild and excellent way. Just losing meat left and right, and trying to make up for it in ways that shouldn’t fool anyone but do.
There’s something genuinely unhinged going on with Thompson and with this diminutive, landlady-seducing, falling-apart leading man here, something that culminates first in a lot of loose flour in the air in a walk-in fridge, and then on a vagina farm in Vermont, where no one keeps what’s left of their head for very long.
I don’t know or know of too many books that get further into it. This one goes there and keeps going. People become little nibs and nubs of people and chase each other around, trying to grind each other down some more.
Here’s one way to end up if you make it through the SAVAGE NIGHT:
“I said we never talked, but we did. We talked all the time to the goats. I talked to them while she slept and she talked to them while I slept. Or maybe it was the other way around. Anyway, I did my share of talking.
I said we lived in the one room, but we didn’t. We lived in all the rooms, but they were all the same. And wherever we were the goats were always there.”
I always want to write something about Jim Thompson, and I always feel good when I do. Where did this guy come from? The world, I think.