Tuesday, January 11, 2011

They Shun Pulp Writers, Don't They?

People know They Shoot Horses, Don't They? as a classic 60s film. Few know it was based on a book by Horace McCoy, which has been called America's first work of existential fiction.

The book came out in 1935, before existential fiction was a widespread topic. And the book had a murder, so it was called a crime novel, making it a candidate for genrecide. Of course, were it not for the "classic crime novel" stamp, it might have drifted offscreen altogether. Being lumped in with the high end of the crime fiction world at least allowed They Shoot Horses to find its way into esteemed compilations like Library of America's Crime Novels: American Noir of the 30s and 40s.

I just finished reading this bleak and very entertaining book, and can’t help but think if Mr. McCoy had been from Toulouse rather than Tennessee, his novel would be given more attention by the snootier Guardians of Taste. They Shoot Horses would have Sartre-obsessed hipsters poring over it, plumbing its depths for the meaning of its lack of meaning. Ironically, had McCoy been from Toulouse, he probably wouldn’t have found such a warm reception in France.

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