Tonawanda News

Features

February 4, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Art imitates hard-boiled life in 'A Hell of a Woman'

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — At times, such a heavy reliance on the hard-boiled aspects of the main character, Dolly, can feel a bit over the top. The way he speaks to love interest Mona, calling her “baby child” and “sweet thing” can come across tacky, but little lapses can be forgiven when “A Hell of a Woman” is looked at from a bigger picture.

Wrapped around the story of Dolly and Mona attempting to rip off an elderly, rude and insensitive woman of $100,000, is a narrative bold enough to take risks. While simple noir stories were selling well in 1954, Thompson chose to push things further, tapping into his life experience for help.

About half-way through the novel, Thompson takes a big literary risk for a pulp work and has main character Dolly suffer a nervous breakdown — just like Thompson had experienced himself in the past. From this point on, narration shifts from broken down, violent, realistic Dolly, to kind, respectable Dolly, imagining a fantasy world where things occurred only the way he had wished they would have.

It’s hard not to see Thompson’s life mirrored in the novel. Dolly, along with a number of side characters, are heavy drinkers, finishing off entire bottles of liquor to themselves in single nights. Thompson would pass away at age 70 from a number of strokes brought on from his alcoholism. Bitter fights break out between Dolly and his wife, not unlike the rocky relationship Jim had himself.

Crime fiction and noir screamed for such a lifestyle from its characters in the 1950s, almost as a getaway for the strictly traditional lifestyle the majority of Americans were living at the time.

Shooting for the cookie-cutter, new-build house with a wife and 2.5 children was the American dream of the time, and pulp novels such as “A Hell of a Woman” fulfilled the more primal cravings of man. It’s no wonder many of Thompson’s works, now heavily praised, were originally sold alongside the pornography section of stores. 

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