"It began with a shattered dream"
This awesome opening line sets the tone for this brooding, melancholy, fever-dream of a novel, par for the course for a David Goodis book. The book is a bit more bizarre than anything else I've read by Goodis, and it follows normal, working square Alvin Darby, who, in bed one night, has a nervous breakdown and begins to be haunted by and obsessed with platinum blonde hair. The cause of this might be his recurring memory of the blonde hair of his older sister, who he was obsessed with when he was a child. This naturally affects his relationship with his brunette wife Vivian, who can't seem to understand why for weeks, Alvin has been unable to get it up and perform his spousal duties in bed. After his breakdown, things get worse after Alvin overhears Vivian cuddle calling on the phone with another man, and he journeys out, with incestual memories and murder on his mind, onto the snowy streets of Philly's Skid Row; streets filled with rotgut wine, cocaine, flophouses, blackmailers, and gold-digging tramps with platinum blonde hair.
“Winter was gray and mean upon the city and every night was a package of cold bleak hours, like the hours in a cell that had no door.”
If this sounds to you like a real downer of a book, then you're right, it is. But that's what you should expect from the poet of despair, David Goodis. But as usual his writing is so poetic and evocative, you can't help but he riveted, and eager to follow the main character as he falls deeper into darkness. If you read a Goodis book expecting a standard noir, you'll be pleasantly surprised or terribly disappointed. His novels never have standard villains like crime bosses or serial killers, but the adversary comes from the inner demons of the protagonists themselves. The action and suspense in Of Tender Sin
is more emotional and psychological, with the main character struggling to confront his paranoia, fetishes, sexual insecurities, and feelings of helplessness. In this way, the book reminded me a lot of my favorite Stanley Kubrick movie, Eyes Wide Shut, that dealt with a very similar journey for the main character. This book feels like it was written in a few nights of inspired, manic writing sessions, where I can imagine Goodis typing away in the late hours, binging on wine, whiskey, and cigarettes. This quality makes the plotting feel a bit rushed and uneven but it also gives the book a very earnest, energized feel. And the book probably has the very best prose that I've read so far in a Goodis novel, with passages just pulsing with mood and imagery.
"Under the blanket the outline of her body was slender and displayed a certain innocence, a precious quality far more significant than the elegance of her form. She seemed to radiate kindness and essential goodness, and Darby, trying to measure the value of her, told himself it was immeasurable."