Book Reviews
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye reviewed by George Pelecanos
Aug 10, 2009, 17:03

KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE by Horace McCoy; Serpent's Tail reissue, 1997

First published in 1948, Horace McCoy's Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye has recently been reissued by Serpent's Tail under the Midnight Classics moniker. Classic is right. Though almost fifty years old, this is the best book of its kind that I've read all year.

McCoy is perhaps best remembered for his Depression-era dance-contest novel, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, which was made into a prestigious, “socially aware” Jane Fonda vehicle in the late '60s. I find that book a bit too stubborn in its unyielding nihilism. A better McCoy is his innocents-gone-to-Hollywood novel, I Should Have Stayed Home (1938) which, to this reader's eye, is more consistently on the mark and appropriately tragi-comic than Nathanael West's similarly themed, more revered Day of the Locust.

I haven't read McCoy's other novel, No Pockets In A Shroud. But certainly Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is McCoy's masterpiece. The story of a psychotic, ice cool criminal reared on the right side of the tracks is hard, thrilling, and cold-blooded from its opening pages—a bloody escape from a chain gang—to its shocking conclusion. In its initial review, Time magazine called it “one of the nastiest novels ever published in this century.” That's a tag any noir stylist would be proud to own, and McCoy earns it in spades, with brilliant passages such as this:

I didn't grow up in the slums with a drunk for a father and whore for a mother and come into crime that way. I hate society too, but I don't hate it because it mistreated me and warped my soul. Every other criminal I know—who's engaged in violent crime—is a two-bit coward who blames his career on society. I need no apologist or crusader to finally hold my lifeless body up to the world and shout for them to come and observe what they have wrought. Do you know one of the first things I'm going to do when I get some money? I'm going to have Cartier make me a little solid gold thing for my wrist, you know, that identification thing the army guys wear, on a solid gold chain and do you know what I'm going to have inscribed on it? Just this: “Use me not a preachment in your literature and your movies. This I have wrought, I and I alone.”

For serious pulp/noir aficionados, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye is essential.

-George Pelecanos


This review originally appeared in Your Flesh #37

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