That atmosphere made Goodis perfect for film noir, and each of the novels in this volume has been adapted. It also made him ripe for the kind of off-the-rails stylization of a director like Jean-Jacques Beineix, who adapted The Moon in the Gutter into an amazing disaster of a movie in 1983. The titles of Goodis's novels alone are enough to get you imaging your own noirs: Dark Passage, Nightfall, Street of No Return. And there are the titles of books not collected here: Down There (the basis for François Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player), The Wounded and the Slain, Of Missing Persons, Somebody's Done For.
In a Goodis novel, somebody's always done for, whether they make it to the end of the book alive or not. Done for or given up. Some of the men here have slipped out of mainstream society. The innocent man convicted of murder in Dark Passage even escapes his own face, undergoing plastic surgery to dodge the cops; the commercial artist in Nightfall hides from the crooks who victimized him in a botched robbery and from the insurance investigator who think he was in on the job. Others want to slip out of existence itself. The Sinatra-like singer of Street of No Return, his throat crushed in a beating, holds himself separate from the already marginal life he's found on Philadelphia's skid row. His name, Whitey, refers as much to his spectral presence as to his prematurely white hair:
He looked at Whitey to see if Whitey was interested in the conversation. Whitey's face showed no interest at all. He wasn't even listening to the hectic noises coming from three blocks south. Whitey sat there gazing at the empty bottle set between Bones's legs, and Phillips wondered seriously whether the small white-haired man was completely in touch with the world. He decided to find out, and he tapped Whitey's shoulder and said, "You hear the commotion? You know what's going on?"
Whitey nodded. But aside from that there was no reaction and he went on looking at the empty bottle.
Only slightly more engaged is the Philly dock worker in The Moon in the Gutter (Philadelphia was the city Goodis knew best) who veers from the home where he supports the tatters of his family to the neighborhood dive bar inhabited by those even more miserable than him. But he's always drawn back to the alley where his sister cut her own throat after being raped. That months after the crime the dead woman's blood is still visible in the alley may seem like evidence of Goodis's indifference to the particulars of physical description. Or it can seem the perfect expression of how, in Goodis's work, the laws of the physical world have given way to the mental states of his protagonists:
At the edge of the alleyway facing Vernon Street, a gray cat waited for a large rat to emerge from its hiding place. The rat had scurried through a gap in the wall of the wooden shack, and the cat was inspecting all the narrow gaps and wondering how the rat had managed to squeeze itself in. In the sticky darkness of a July midnight the cat waited there for more than a half hour. As it walked away, it left its paw prints in the dried blood of a girl who had died here in the alley some seven months ago.