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Pick-Up (Library of America E-Book Classics)

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,699 ratings  ·  177 reviews
In Pick-Up, Charles Willeford has created a work of psychological suspense that is at once poignant, terrifying, and utterly authentic in its depcition of alcoholic desire and destruction.
Kindle Edition, 178 pages
Published November 7th 2017 by Library of America (first published 1955)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
”’I’ve had terrible luck with women, Helen,’ I said, ‘and for the last two years I’ve kept away from them. I didn’t want to go through it all again--you know, the bickering, the jealousy, nagging, that sort of thing. Am I scaring you off?’

‘You couldn’t if you tried, Harry. You’re my kind of man and it isn’t hard to say so. What I mean is--you’re somebody underneath, a person, and not just another man.’”

After the war, Harry Jordan came back a different man. He didn’t go home to his wife and child
Mar 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-fiction
". . . I hit the bottle so hard I'm not sure whether I came to San Francisco on the bus or on the train."

Stunning, though massively depressing tale of what happens when two self-destructive souls collide. This is bleak as all-get-out, though Willeford's writing is beyond amazing. I was reading this at the same time I was listening to The Sun Also Rises (well, not at the exact same time, but you know what I mean), and I couldn't help musing on which characters could drink one another under the ta
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I saw the cover of this book on my friend Alex's TBR list, I knew immediately I had to read it.

I can't resist almost any hardboiled fiction from the 40s and 50s, and this one came with this particularly enticing promotion:

Helen is a beautiful, sensuous drunk - and a pathetically easy pick-up.

Wow, I was in.

Before you could say “good-looking dame,” I had roped two of my favorite Goodreads friends, Robin and Alex, into a snarky, literary threesome and we were ready to have some laughs, doing
Jack Tripper
(Updated 1/21/17)
Here's my 1992 Futura mass-market (187 pages), which isn't listed here. Not quite as nifty as that 1955 edition up top, but unless anyone has an extra $60 lying around that they could do without, I guess I'll just have to stick with this one.

Without a doubt one of the three or four best classic -era noir novels I've ever read, Pick-Up is a bleak, heartbreaking story about a newly-met alcoholic couple who are seemingly doomed, spending their days and nights in various bars drinki
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Noir is so much fun. It can commit ALL MANNER OF SINS and people are still like, yes! Awesome book! At least, that seems to be the way for me.

Here are just a few of the sins found in this book:

1) Misogyny - our femme fatale Helen is described like a thirteen year old, with pudgy hands, who needs to use "the potty". Ick!

2) Purple prose / so-so writing - no wonderful Chandler-esque similes to be found here, folks

3) Nonsensical twist ending - don't look at the last page! It'll ruin everything for y
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: helpless lushes
Shelves: 2019, noir
Every time I start reading noir I think oh, man, I'd forgotten how dumb noir is. And every time I finish it I think where's more noir?

Game: describe your favorite book in a pulpy tagline. "Her husband was dead in bed - and then he was just dead!" - Middlemarch

So it goes with this batshit Noir Bingo winner. Harry is - what else? - a loser. Noir writers got themselves into a race to see whose antihero could be the anti-est, and Harry's way down there. He meets - who else? - a woman who is not good
Man, that was depressing! A bleak and nihilistic look at a destructive relationship and the negative effects of alcoholism. I imagine that if David Goodis and Jim Thompson teamed up to write the screenplay for the movie Days of Wine and Roses, they would've churned out this novel!

Failed painter and alcoholic Harry Jordan meets a pretty blonde lush named Helen in the bar and grill where he works. They almost instantly fall head over heels for each other, but anyone with common sense can tell that
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Years ago I read Willeford's Miami Blues. It was good crime novel, that kind of reminded me of Elmore Leonard (second drawer), or Carl Hiasson. (The Hare Krishna scene at the airport was a keeper). It was made into a good movie with Fred Ward and Alec Baldwin (still the best thing I've seen Baldwin in). As I said, the book was solid, but it perplexed me a bit, because I was aware that Willeford was held in high regard by crime writers like Leonard. Looking back, I'm guessing at this late point i ...more
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-as-night
A far cry from the Hoke Moseley novels this bleak piece of nihilism is a novel that astounds with its dedication to the central theme of despair, anguish, alienation and self destruction. Harry meets Helen in a diner, they are high functioning alcoholics, they get together and proceed to push each other further in to oblivion until suicide is a very real option for both of them and Willeford doesn't flinch once from his evocative descriptions of their state of mind. A lack of respect and underst ...more
COUNTDOWN: Mid-20th Century North American Crime
Book 67 (of 250)
Do NOT look at the final page. No matter what! But when the second to the last line comes around, you might think 1) all this to work up for that reveal? or 2) the entire narrative now spins the story into a different light I hadn't even considered, and just how important, really, is that reveal? Well, it's huge, really, given that most villians in noir books are never given a chance. And the big reveal begs the question: what about
Jason Coleman
Jan 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Took a detour from Brothers Karamazov to read this thing and, shallow person that I am, preferred it. There is a crime at the center of this story, but for a noir writer, Willeford is too interested in character and setting to be distracted by crime-story clichés. At one point the hero is held at gunpoint, but eventually he turns around and finds that the guy with the gun has wandered off, so he just goes home. During a spell in a psychiatric hospital, he goes up to the roof with a male nurse fo ...more
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: w, 2019

Prowling the grimy streets of San Francisco, low-life Helen is a beautiful, sensuous drunk - and a pathetically easy pick-up. That is until she meets Harry, who buys her a coffee and takes her home with him. Harry just wants to help, but before long he and Helen are both adrift in a sea of alcohol - until Harry conceives the ultimate crime ......
My take.....

Another re-read from long ago, sometime early 90s maybe, but certainly long enough that elements of it pricked at
Oct 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
Would have been 5 stars, except the "shocker" ending which, IMO, doesn't have any bearing on the plot whatsoever. I mean, what is that supposed to mean? That he, despite his.....inescapable stigma...for lack of a better way to be spoiler-free...was able to end up the way it did?

Yeah, this book is one of those spoiler landmines. Just read the friggin' thing and make up your own damn mind. :P

Anyway, the spare prose was great. Loved the style. I loved and hated these characters because they were pa
Thomas Pluck
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Willeford was unique and this book is no exception. It reads more as an existential novel about two people who reject society and love each other deeply. His writing is strong as usual, but it didn't work for me, and the infamous twist ending is still twisting my mind. I can see it, except in how others reacted. But it's no more of a fantasy with the twist or without.
Krok Zero
Jun 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spring-2010
Dayumn. Willeford was one subversive motherfucker in the '50s. Like his contemporaneous masterpiece The Woman Chaser , this is a dark novel with serious ambition and zero pretense toward the pulp thrills promised by its original marketing--or even its current marketing, deceptively packaged in the Library of America's 1950s crime-novel volume. But unlike The Woman Chaser, which was basically a very deranged comedy, Pick-Up is pure nihilism, a sustained howl of bleak, hopeless agony. Honestly, ...more
Wow. Just jaw hanging open, wow. Willeford's description of the wrist slitting suicide attempts must be one of the purest expressions of literary decadence this side of Yukio Mishima's description of seppuku in his story "Patriotism." And that is just one of the many surprises in this novel that was originally published as a pulp in 1955, but one has to wonder if the publisher had any idea what they were publishing. Despite the in your face downward spiral of despair, depression, and alcoholism ...more
Carla Remy
I sort of loved this. It's well-written and readable. The subject matter is depressing, verging on disgusting. I mean, it could be worse, but it's not exactly charming. It's not much of a crime story, more one man's issues, psychosis and guilt. As such it calls strongly to mind Highsmith and Thompson - Willeford was their contemporary, and very similar, but also talented. I read one of his books before this, and would like to read more ...
Ruth Turner

This story felt a bit rushed to me. The downwards spiral, after Harry and Helen met, seemed to happen too fast; just a few weeks.

The ending came as no surprise, although the second last line was, but that didn't effect my overall view of the book.

A quick read, but not an easy one. In fact, it was downright depressing.
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I like to pretend that I am well-read/watched on noir. It’s one of my passions and something that I can always return to. It’s irresistible. It lives in this world of being both pulp and high art. It’s both hyper realistic and surrealist at the same time. Over time, I’ve been drawn towards the strain of noir that deals with a tortured soul and Pick Up fits this perfectly.

As noir fiction goes, Pick Up was pretty damn good. An alcoholic meets and alcoholic and they slowly descend to contempla
robin friedman
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lost Souls In San Francisco

Charles Willeford's 1956 novel "Pick-Up" tells the story of two sad, lonely, alcoholic people, Harry Jordan, 32, and Helen Meredith, 33, who find each other briefly while wandering the streets and bars of San Francisco. The novel has a nihilistic, almost hopeless feel in places, as both characters say they want to die and twice attempt a double suicide. Here is a passage, before the first suicide attempt that gives much of the sense of despair of the book.

"What a rotte
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
OK. This is the third and last time I am going to write this review. If it disappears yet again, too bad.

First of all, I did not even like this story. It is about two people who can think of nothing better to do with their lives than get drunk and finally, out of the emptiness and despair relentlessly gnawing at their souls from which they can no longer run they agree to kill themselves.

This does not go as smoothly as they anticipated; however, one of them succeeds in dying and the other one get
Mar 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A couple of down and out transients drink and pass time in 1950s San Francisco. Good hard boiled style. This novel has a SURPRISE ENDING. I usually don't like gimmicks at the end of stories, but this one makes you re-think your IMAGINING of the narrative. Four stars.
Nov 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Treece by: a friend and mentor
This is one of the best books I've read in quite some time. 165 pages of superb, concise writing that delves into the deepest, darkest reaches of the human psyche.
Helen and Harry are complex, obsessive and totally lost. This is brilliant. I never feel pity for them, just a sinister fascination and understanding. You respect their honesty, commiserate with their self-destruction on some level.

This is a classic must-read if you can locate a copy. I guarantee when I got to the end, many areas beca
Chris Rhatigan
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is exactly my kind of book. Loser guy who's a line cook but thinks he's an artist (or is he an artist?) takes up with a drifter, alcoholic woman and slides toward oblivion. I've been devouring Willeford lately and have no plans to stop.
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrific and bleak. And I might change my last name to Hingen-Bergen.
Aug 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This started out as a sad, slice-of-life, Bukowski-esque drunk story, which I liked just fine, but then it got progressively weirder. There's a little too much "erudite art talk" at points, but the strangeness of the whole thing kept me interested. I'm a big fan of Willeford's Hoke Moseley series. This isn't as good as those, but he's a writer whose straightforward style, wry humor, and bleak worldview make anything he writes worth reading. And an extra star for the ballsy, nutso twist at the en ...more
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noir
I don't know whether I should do this or not, but this is not the novel you think it is; and you won't know what it is about until the very last page.

Charles Willeford writes about the relationship of Harry Jordan with Helen Meredith, whom he meets at a bar. She moves in with him, and their relationship begins on a high note. But as time goes by, it appears that Helen is an incurable alcoholic. Harry drinks, too, but he is more functional and marginally able to hold down simple jobs. But when H
Scott Tobias
Apr 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With this, only his second novel, Willeford has secured a place among my favorite writers. (Yes, yes, what an honor.) It's not the most polished piece of craft, but it's an utterly shocking and uncompromising portrait of two alcoholics who meet, fall in love, and circle the drain together. Their shared fatalism gives this book a dark kick-- when the money runs out, the pair become so resigned to inevitability (indeed, the welcome embrace) of death that when they're confronted by an armed mugger, ...more
This one really reminded me of one of my other favourite reads this year, Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis. Same sort of bleak main character for whom everything is going wrong and both were written in the mid 1950's. Can't say much more without giving the story away other than that the two final sentences of this one totally turn around the perspective on the whole thing in a very clever way - WARNING: DO NOT, WHATEVER YOU DO, SKIP AHEAD AND READ THE FINAL PAGE. YOU MUST LEAVE IT UNTIL TH ...more
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pick-Up by Charles Willeford, told in the first-person tells the story of a painter who has lost faith in his abilities and is working at odd jobs in San Francisco. He picks up a girl at a bar where he is working, falls in love with her, and is drawn into her web of despair. Soon they have agreed to kill themselves, fail, try again and this time partially succeed. There is a fantastic surprise ending to this well-done novel.
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Charles Willeford was a remarkably fine, talented and prolific writer who wrote everything from poetry to crime fiction to literary criticism throughout the course of his impressively long and diverse career. His crime novels are distinguished by a mean'n'lean sense of narrative economy and an admirable dearth of sentimentality. He was born as Charles Ray Willeford III on January 2, 1919 in Little ...more

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