Patti Abbott is working on a project called Fridays: The Book You Have to Read, the gist of which is to refresh people’s memories about great books that might have slipped off the radar. Last week we did Edward Anderson’s THIEVES LIKE US. This week we’re picking – trumpet parp, if you will, maestro – Horace McCoy’s KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE.
“One of the nastiest novels ever published in this country,” declared Time Magazine. “The real nihilist of the hard-boiled school, the laureate of the blank wall,” claimed Geoffrey O’Brien. The writer was Horace McCoy, the novel KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE (1948). By then French writers such as Sartre, Andre Gide and Andre Malraux were ranking McCoy alongside Faulkner, Steinbeck and Hemingway; Simone de Beauvoir went so far as to suggest that McCoy’s THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? (1935) was “the first existentialist novel to have appeared in America.”
McCoy earned the existential outlook the hard way. He fought as a pilot in WWI, winning the Croix de Guerre in the process. From 1919 to 1930 he worked as a sports editor for The Dallas Journal, and also co-founded the Dallas Little Theatre. Then the Depression hit. Finding himself out of work, McCoy wrote short stories that were published in Detective-Dragnet, Detective Action Stories and Black Mask, and struggled to become a Hollywood actor.
His experience of Hollywood during the Depression provided the material for the downbeat melodramas THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?, NO POCKETS IN A SHROUD (1937), and I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME (1938). He finally found work in Hollywood, but as a screenwriter for B-movie westerns; by the time the French writers ‘discovered’ his novels in the ‘40s, McCoy was “broke, depressed and fat from too much food and booze.”
KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE offered redemption. McCoy’s most ambitious work, the novel follows Ralph Cotter, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar who remoulds himself as a viciously immoral killer after his breakout from prison (pausing only to head-shoot his partner, so he won’t slow him down). Once out, Cotter organises shakedown of a corrupt small-town police chief, dupes a millionaire’s daughter into falling for him, and generally engages in a relentless one-man assault on the mores of middle America. An unusual blend of rapacious action and contemplative self-examination from the reprehensible anti-hero, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE prompted Kirkus Reviews to predict, “This will probably be quarantined from libraries but … this has a literate, nerve-lacerating, whip-lashing effectiveness.”
Amen to that. – Declan Burke
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.