Pulp According to David Goodis
By Jay Gertzman

The variety of dangerous women in Goodis is a sign of the weird fascination he and his readers have for perverse intimacy. It is inevitable for the protagonist of the novel to find the femme fatale irresistible, especially b/c he senses she may indeed paralyze his will. The novelist depicts a world where men are drawn into a web that they may or may not even want to escape from. It's Philadelphia Gothic.

MADGE in _Dark Passage_: The more this person likes a man, the more she pursues him until he wants only to get out alive. That’s the case with her former husband. She wants Vince, the protagonist, who was married to Gert when they first met. The attraction is mysterious. She likes his decency, courage, perseverance, intelligence. Contrarily, she is mad with possessiveness. One reason for Vince’s daring escape from prison, where he is serving life for killing Gert, is to prove Madge killed Gert, and later, Vince’s best friend, Fellsinger. This she did so the cops would think the fugitive, Vince, did it. Madge befriends Irene to tell her Vince is a vindictive killer. She needs to destroy Irene's affection for Vince so she can have him under her own thumb.

Vince does track down Madge. She knows Vince cannot reverse the verdict of his killing his wife unless Madge testifies. Now Goodis reveals the uncanny power of this "orange enchantress." She jumps to her death, so that he’ll never be able to prove his innocence. (The movie had to make the fall unintentional, b/c the guardians of decency felt suicide was too shocking for a mass audience). Goodis describes her falling as “her gold inlays glittering” and the "billowing of her bright orange “hair, coat, and slacks.” See the image above of her knocking at the door of Vince's worst nightmare.
CLARA in _Behold This Woman_ has the power to humiliate the men in the story and terrorize the women. Barry and Evelyn want to be together, but her ability to shame and unman make them unable to get together. Clara has the same uncanny controlling traits, and the “fallen angel” sinister character, as does Madge. . One of Clara’s earlier victims says: “The forces of evil are stronger than my own will.”
GERALDINE in _Of Tender Sin_ is fascinating to Al Darby b/c she looks uncannily like his sister, Marjorie. Al and she were very close. At 12, he lost his mind and raped 15-year old Marjorie. Their parents sent the girl away, and Al tried to repress the episode.

Then he met platinum blonde Geraldine. Al and Geraldine’s mutual lust is more luridly described than that of the incestuous episode: “It was like crawling through a furnace, in the depths of the orange glow down and down to where the fire was hottest. Then there was her wailing laugh that climbed and climbed until it broke and her arms and legs were limp and her eyes were closed.” [there’s orange again, night quite a raging red, or glowing yellow]

Al leaves her, but 6 years after marriage, he has a harrowing dream, beckoning him to a “long, long road” that ends at Geraldine's house. She has not changed her appearance. Her cynical fatalism (“the world needs another flood”) has hardened, and she has “a new boyfriend, Charlie.” She means her cocaine habit (she’s also a pusher). She brands him, drawing her name in his chest with her zombie-like fingernails. “This time you won’t get away.” Talk about doomed romanticism.

Her description has biblical implications. Goodis seems to pattern her after Lilith, the first mate for Adam, who pleaded with God to be rid of her. Al has gotten mixed up with the first femme fatale. Lillith insisted on equality with Adam, as Satan wanted with God. Banished from paradise long before Adam, she married Samael, a fallen angel, and was devoted to preventing childbirth, i.e., ending the human race. Geraldine’s misanthropy is implied in her selling cocaine in schoolyards.
Equally weird is her “cackling,” which substitutes for laughter.

Another allusion may be to Double Indemnity’s Phyllis Nirdlinger (Dietrickson in the film) , a symptom of Walter Neff’s deep-seated resentments, and a death-spitting cobra whose bridegroom is Death.

Late in Of Tender Sin, Al expresses his desire to stay with the sadistic Geraldine, who “ruled without mercy. … And most of all he . . . the pale green eyes and the platinum blonde hair.” This implies that his beloved sister and Geraldine are doppelgangers: opposites, one loving and passive and the other all-consuming. They are symptoms of what bedevils Al, his shame and need to be punished. In other words, he is still trapped in his desire for his sister.

One of the Gothic elements in these three novels is the power of the femme fatale to feed upon the intertwined fears and desires of the protagonists. That they can do so gives them an unearthly aura, like Keats' Belle Dame Sans Merci, or Lilith, or even Norman Bates' mother, who is never seen b/ c she is inside the protagonists' head.



Pulp According to David Goodis
By Jay Gertzman

Celia, in STREET OF NO RETURN, and Vera, in SOMEBODY’S DONE FOR, are women that Whitey Lindell, and Calvin Jander, respectively, cannot live without. Without them, the men “have nothing in their lives.” That they do not come together is equally tragic for the females as it is to the males. Eugene Lindell sees Celia dance, and refused to give her up. Sharkey pleads with him to leave town. He cannot; what she promises is unfathomably magnetic to both men. It would be intolerable spiritual deprivation to lose her. As we know, it is Whitey who loses, and loses his means for making beautiful song also. He loses his “backbone,” drinks rotgut, and hangs out on the steps of a skid row flophouse.

Describing Celia dancing at a stag party, Goodis tells us there was nothing sensual about what she did. Far from what would be expected from a former hooker, it “had no connection to matters of the flesh”; the men watching felt what they had never felt before, a spiritual challenge to recognize her soulfulness and approach it reverently. They have no context for what the dancer was expressing about refinements of prurient lust into something not roller-coaster exhilarating, but more precious: a mysterious peace and forgiveness. They were anxious for the next dancer, whose routine would be “very raw, smutty and ugly to get them back to earth again.” They idolize the women too much to want intercourse with them. Celia had made them “feel like worms crawling at the feet of something they didn’t dare to touch.”

Freud termed such a situation “degrading” as well as common. Sex can be desired only with sluts. Love is too much like prayer to have any earthly content. One writer characterized this split between the holy and the profane as producing a “poisoned embrace.” Another used the term “psychical impotence.” It’s as deep in the Judeo-Christian definition of good and evil as the need for a messiah. It reduces the female to a “symptom” of male desire, or idolization.
In SOMEBODY’S DONE FOR, men addicted to driving hours to see Vera dance say, “I can’t stay away from this place.” But it is the “worst pain there is. It’s the pain of craving the unattainable.” These statements express desire and fear of Vera as a kind of goddess they do not know how to worship. To get close enough to be intimate would mean a complete take-over of their energies, “. . . the feeling that [they] had been captured, rendered helpless.” Al Darby, in OF TENDER SIN, thinks that this infantile state is what he really wants for the rest of his life. He’s tough enough to rip off a thief’s scalp, but inside, he’s really still a mamma’s boy.

Calvin Jander is no jellyfish. He and Vera love each other completely, that is, sexually and emotionally. Vera says, “It’s real, all right. It’s just as real as that moon up there.” It was fated for sure, as is clear from words such as “ordained,” “mystical,” “absolutely,” and “moon,” which in several fictions means ultimate entrapment, not heavenly peace. Vera cannot be without the man she thinks is her father. Celia cannot be without Sharkey.
It may be wrong to describe Vera and Celia as femme fatale. They are passive figures, themselves controlled by false protectors themselves obsessively tied to the woman. For Vera, it is a childless criminal who kidnapped her when she was an infant. Celia is in the power of a killer mobster, the guy who says if she was not with him, he would wither away. It is the power of the women over the men that replicates the femme fatale concept. They are, as Slavok Zizkek says, “symptoms” of the perverseness of their worshippers, which includes emotional impotence.

If you remember PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, this is indeed the hero’s problem. He can enjoy sex (actually oral sex) with a non-Jewish girl, but when he visits Israel, with a beautiful Sabra he is impotent. Shame is built in—to the scrotum. Love, as we burden it with the “love is heavenly” conceit, becomes a fantasy harmful to happiness. That was why D H Lawrence’s definition of love was “sex in the head.”