Pop. 1280 Pop. 1280 question


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Questions about the end
Matt Ingwalson Matt Feb 25, 2016 09:08PM
The Grifters, The Killer Inside Me and The Getaway all may be better known. But Pop. 1280 is Jim Thompson's masterpiece. It has an end that twists the reader's perception of the rest of the novel, without veering into the surreal horror of Savage Night or The Getaway.

I have two questions I'm hoping someone can help me out with. Anything past this point should be considered a spoiler!

Some reviewers have written that Nick ends the book believing he is on a holy quest to expose the sinners of his town. But I am pretty sure that's wrong. Nick talks frequently about trickery and seduction, about offering people choices and letting them choose evil. I think Nick is doing the Devil's work, not God's. Which leads me to my questions:

1. Is Nick the Devil, or does he only think he is?

2. When Nick talks to Buck on Pop. 1280's final pages, "revealin' who I was for the first time," Buck assumes Nick is "jokin' or crazy," and replies, "Prob'ly got yourself mixed up with that other fella. The one with the same front initial." Nick says he is both men, "the fella that gets betrayed and the one who does the betrayin' all in one man." Who the heck is Buck referring too?



1. Yes (see below!)

2. IIRC (don't have my copy to hand) he calls himself the son of god in the closing line(s) so I always took this to be Jesus ("the fella that gets betrayed") and Judas ("the one who does the betrayin'") - I think Nick sees the duality in what he's doing: he believes it to be righteous work, but also recognises the underhanded way in which he goes about it as being corrupt and 'evil'.

This is what Thompson did brilliantly time and again, he gave you a fractured man who has elements of brilliance in him but uses them in ways that harm a lot of people...so you're left struggling to decide whether they're good men or not. In everything of his I've read I've always detected an undercurrent of disgust with the pulps of his contemporaries that wold present some womanising, violent, amoral PI or cop or whoever and expect the reader to root for him just because the author said he was the hero. Thompson found the shades of grey far more interesting: what makes a man good or bad, and how do we judge the relative merits of his actions?

Hence my answer to 1. being "Yes": he is the Devil and he only thinks he is, and he's Jesus and Judas and everything else as well - that's part of why I love this book so much, because he throws that right in your face at the end as if he's making a final point and the more you think about it the more it reveals not just about Thompson and his work but also about our own responses to the tropes we've been conditioned to accept from genre fiction. Thompson is challenging this, as he pretty much always did with everything he wrote, but here you actually have to sit back and think about it.

I've written more about Thompson and his writing here, in case anyone is interested: https://theinvisibleevent.wordpress.c...


Thanks for the very thoughtful reply and link to your blog.


Jeremy (last edited Aug 14, 2021 01:42PM ) Aug 14, 2021 12:24PM   0 votes
"So here it is Buck, here is my decision. I thought and I thought and then I thought some more and finally I came to a decision. I decided I don’t know more what to do then if I was just another lousy human being."

My take; Besides the obvious biblical references Nick is saying there is only one difference between good and evil, god and the devil. And that is how one makes their mind up about it, minute to minute.


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