06 August 2008

Sick & Twisted

Snot mixed with blood exploded from their nostrils and their caps flew off behind, suddenly filled with fragments of their skulls and pasty gray brain matter streaked with capillaries like gobs of putty finely laced with red ink.

Out of the Gutter, perhaps? Hunter S. Thompson? Dawn of the Dead? David Cronenberg?

Sorry. None of the above. The quote is from a short story called "Prediction" by the incomparable CHESTER HIMES. (Wikipedia entry here.) Like a lot of the noir masters, Mr. Himes was misunderstood and under-appreciated during his lifetime. With the benefit of historical distance, readers like me can enjoy this man's searing honesty, brutal realism, and terrific story-telling. He is best known for the Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones novels (like The Real Cool Killers) and the movies (Cotton Comes to Harlem) those spawned. I just finished the long (60 stories, 420+ pages) Collected Stories (Thunder's Mouth Press, 1990). Like any collection, the pieces vary in quality. These span a period from 1933 to 1978, and reflect much of what Himes experienced as a convict, an African-American, and an ex-patriate. Mostly what holds them together is his insight into character and motivation, as well as his unwillingness to pull punches. Himes shines a bright light on to everything he looks at, and reports back with a graceful balance of detachment and passion. Great stuff.

(There's a nice piece by Michael Marsh on Himes' life and work here.)

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