Matthew's Reviews > A Swell-Looking Babe

A Swell-Looking Babe by Jim Thompson
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May 04, 2010

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bookshelves: detectives, texana

I can't say I particularly enjoyed watching Thompson usher this character into complete oblivion. The final judgment made on the protagonist of this book is made with such masochistic fervor, it makes one's stomach turn - Fascinating and upsetting, considering Thompson must've identified with this character at least a little, since it was informed by his experience as a night bellboy in a Fort Worth hotel.

Every authority and every relative and every colleague of the bellboy in this book thrives on suspicion and hatred. The bellboy's mother is dead, the bellboy gives nearly all of his earnings to a semi-invalid father. Every time the family doctor visits he unleashes seething condemnation on the bellboy, for the father needs a shave! His clothes look unkempt! A lawyer hounds the bellboy for legal expenses his father has gathered. The bellboy's coworker berates him constantly. We are meant to feel sorry for the bellboy, of course he does not deserve such treatment. As a reader I resent being manipulated so clearly. Thompson almost pulls it off, he almost provides believable motivation for all the sadism, but it goes off the rails too soon.

Then there are the women. The swell-looking babe. If manipulative, incestuous head-games turn you on, than this is the book for you! (A real class dame right? What could a guy like me? Huh? Choking on resentment her curves want to make me explode in a rage! Snarling authority, always trying to maintain my authority, but then collapsing at her breast and weeping.) Some of these men and women from these 1950s books, every second of affection they receive comes at the price of such pain and guilt! A kiss is your ticket to hell! It's horrifying. It's very hard for me to read.

Also, these characters don't drink water or breathe air, they guzzle coffee and inhale cigarette smoke, despite constant references to the heat wave and sweating! Just funny to note.

In spite of the agony this book documents, I found it fascinating.
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