notgettingenough 's Reviews > Roughneck

Roughneck by Jim Thompson
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Reviewed in conjunction with La Douleur

Sometimes you read a book that makes you feel ashamed of your life, every time you thought you were unlucky or that you deserve more or that you should get more. Whatever you have suffered, however genuine it be, suddenly becomes as nothing, its place clearly fixed in the universe as the measliest dot the world ever has seen. Roughneck does that. It describes a portion of his life in the pared down, straightforward way Thompson tells all his stories. Nothing is oversized, filled with extra words so that you can feel like you are getting more than you paid for. You are, of course. But not in word count.

As is so often the case, the small story about a few, packs so much more punch than big numbers. This one starts before the Great Depression and takes us through that period. Not that I should be calling it a story. I groaned when I realised I’d picked up an autobiography, not a novel. Live life, don’t read about others, p-llllease. But I was too mean not to read it, serves me right for not looking carefully when I bought it. And before two pages were up I was goggle-eyed, gaping-mouthed hooked.

The man’s a genius. He can even make biography bearable. I’m not going to review this, for the simple reason that I’m not worthy too. The human suffering he writes about, what Americans did to Americans, even white Americans to white Americans, would be demeaned by anything I said about it. I don’t think I ever realised so clearly the extent to which poverty and wealth create the same barriers, the same hate as race or religion, maybe even worse. Watching the way wealthy Americans treated those they were exploiting in this period made my stomach churn. I think that’s the most incredible aspect of it. It is so easy to understand poor people might hate rich. But this book brings home the other side of this and it is truly ghastly to watch.

This is a wildy entertaining book, but it is about people who were rich, watching, exploiting and being despicable to their poor neighbours. It is about people unnecessarily half starving, living in the most desperate circumstances and heart in mouth hoping they pull through. It makes you ashamed to be human.

So I thought.

But then, I hadn’t picked up La Douleur yet.

‘Shit.’ That is what I did say out loud, irritated when I picked this up, the very next book after Roughneck. Another hasty purchase, another %$^#$ autobiography. A slightly wanky one, if it comes to that, I felt as I started it – after the plain matteroffactness of Thompson, Duras seemed on the hysterically dramatic side.

Then again, who wouldn’t be? Thompson writes about the half starved. Duras writes of the 95% starved. I don’t know how to put that. People who are literally skin and bones as they come back, those few who do, from the camps of Nazi Germany, people who are so close to death that food is going to kill them as surely as lack of it will, people whose skeletons can’t bear the tiny weight on them. I have no way of describing the horrors recorded here and to quote bits and pieces would seem plain disrespectful.

I did need some pages to adjust to the girly, introspective way Duras sets out her story here, but then, it was never supposed to be a story, not like that. It was what she wrote at the time for herself, trying to hang on to what was left of her sanity as she waited for her husband to come back during the period in which the prisoners were set free from the Nazi camps. She has some moments of marvelous acidity as she describes how some of the French take advantage of the new political situation. She is no friend of de Gaulle, who sounds like a right creep the way she tells it.

It turned out that being ashamed of America in the Depression wasn’t the half of it.

Lately I seem to keep on – completely coincidentally – reading books that pair each other in some significant way and here again, it’s happened. It’s an odd request, but I’m making it. These books go together. Get them and read them back to back. It’ll be totally worth it, I promise!
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways This is an absolutely wonderful review. Thank you very much for writing it.


notgettingenough Richard wrote: "This is an absolutely wonderful review. Thank you very much for writing it."

Thank you!


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