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Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson

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Robert Polito recounts Thompson's relationship with his father, a disgraced Oklahoma sheriff, with the women he adored in life and murdered on the page, with alcohol, would-be censors, and Hollywood auteurs. Unrelenting and empathetic, casting light into the darker caverns of our collective psyche, Savage Art is an exemplary homage to an American original. A National Book Robert Polito recounts Thompson's relationship with his father, a disgraced Oklahoma sheriff, with the women he adored in life and murdered on the page, with alcohol, would-be censors, and Hollywood auteurs. Unrelenting and empathetic, casting light into the darker caverns of our collective psyche, Savage Art is an exemplary homage to an American original. A National Book Critics Circle Award winner. 57 photos.


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Robert Polito recounts Thompson's relationship with his father, a disgraced Oklahoma sheriff, with the women he adored in life and murdered on the page, with alcohol, would-be censors, and Hollywood auteurs. Unrelenting and empathetic, casting light into the darker caverns of our collective psyche, Savage Art is an exemplary homage to an American original. A National Book Robert Polito recounts Thompson's relationship with his father, a disgraced Oklahoma sheriff, with the women he adored in life and murdered on the page, with alcohol, would-be censors, and Hollywood auteurs. Unrelenting and empathetic, casting light into the darker caverns of our collective psyche, Savage Art is an exemplary homage to an American original. A National Book Critics Circle Award winner. 57 photos.

30 review for Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    I don't get all the haters for this book. Perhaps it's because Jim Thompson isn't depicted as an alcoholic/addict Superman like Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs, and instead sounds like a whiny drunk. Who cares? He's still the greatest writer of noir in my opinion. I really enjoyed Robert Polito's analysis of Thompson's psychotic novels (if you're a Spoiler Nazi you'll have a seizure, so stay out) and I also liked reading about his aborted novels and TV/movie script projects, too, and ye I don't get all the haters for this book. Perhaps it's because Jim Thompson isn't depicted as an alcoholic/addict Superman like Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs, and instead sounds like a whiny drunk. Who cares? He's still the greatest writer of noir in my opinion. I really enjoyed Robert Polito's analysis of Thompson's psychotic novels (if you're a Spoiler Nazi you'll have a seizure, so stay out) and I also liked reading about his aborted novels and TV/movie script projects, too, and yes, at one time even Orson Welles was on board. It kills me to think of what might have been, but Hollywood can be cruel.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carla Remy

    During the Depression, Thompson wrote and published true crime, with the help of his mother and sister, who would find cases and research them for him. These lurid stories seem influential on his later work. He had always wanted to be a writer, producing a couple Steinbeckian novels, then gravitating toward fictional murder. His best years were writing Paperback Originals for Lion Books, starting with The Killer Inside Me in 1952. He's considered to have written his best novels during this five During the Depression, Thompson wrote and published true crime, with the help of his mother and sister, who would find cases and research them for him. These lurid stories seem influential on his later work. He had always wanted to be a writer, producing a couple Steinbeckian novels, then gravitating toward fictional murder. His best years were writing Paperback Originals for Lion Books, starting with The Killer Inside Me in 1952. He's considered to have written his best novels during this five year period, but after Lion folded, he wrote the Getaway and the Grifters, two of his most filmed books. Early in his life, Thompson's father was a sheriff in Oklahoma who was run out of town for embezzling (he put his wife and children on a train then escaped to Mexico on horseback). This does seem like it affected Jim's books, given the number of his corrupt sheriffs.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Quentin

    In the early '7os, after years of battling the bottle; churning out dime store pulp fiction which barely covered his liquor bill, author Jim Thompson had finally struck paydirt. Hollywood had come a knockin'. Tinsel Town's #1 box office draw, Steve McQueen, wanted the movie rights to Thompson's 1959 crime noir classic, "The Getaway." Broke, out of print, and unable to write, Thompson stood to make more dough from the film rights to his book, then he'd earned in his entire career as a novelist. A In the early '7os, after years of battling the bottle; churning out dime store pulp fiction which barely covered his liquor bill, author Jim Thompson had finally struck paydirt. Hollywood had come a knockin'. Tinsel Town's #1 box office draw, Steve McQueen, wanted the movie rights to Thompson's 1959 crime noir classic, "The Getaway." Broke, out of print, and unable to write, Thompson stood to make more dough from the film rights to his book, then he'd earned in his entire career as a novelist. After a lifetime of hard knocks, fate had finally smiled upon Jim Thompson -- well . . . not really. Before a deal could be inked -- in a twist as sardonic as the plot of one of his novels -- it was discovered that Thompson had signed away the rights to his publisher a decade earlier . . . So was the savage life and art of Jim Thompson -- a master of crime fiction who ranks among the giants of the genre: Raymond Chandler; Dashiell Hammett; James M. Cain. Robert Polito shines the gumshoe's flashlight on a uniquely gifted writer: a man whose life was as sordid and tragic as any character out of film noir.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bob Mackey

    I had my reservations about diving into another Jim Thompson biography, because the last one I read, Michael J. McCauley's Sleep with the Devil, felt more like a meandering thesis than a true account of its subject's life. Thankfully, Robert Polito did some hardcore research on Thompson for Savage Art, giving us a more direct path into his head, as well as a greater look at the circumstances that shaped his writing. Those looking for insight into Thompson's existence during his most prolific per I had my reservations about diving into another Jim Thompson biography, because the last one I read, Michael J. McCauley's Sleep with the Devil, felt more like a meandering thesis than a true account of its subject's life. Thankfully, Robert Polito did some hardcore research on Thompson for Savage Art, giving us a more direct path into his head, as well as a greater look at the circumstances that shaped his writing. Those looking for insight into Thompson's existence during his most prolific period might be a bit disappointed, because these are the years Thompson's personal life and alcoholism were under control, giving Polito not much to report on. But Thompson's first stab at being an author through distinctly leftist, Grapes of Wrath-type subject matter is covered in thorough detail, as is his relationship with the Communist party, and the politics of the unions he took part in. Savage Art falls victim to the same problem a lot of biographies suffer from, and spends an excessive amount of time tracing each member of the Thompson family's journey through history before finally arriving at Jim himself. But after the dense intro, Polito shows Thompson's life was as harrowing as those of his characters, and Thompson's own autobiographies whitewashed the sadness, alienation, and suppressed rage that served as the engine for his finest books. Above all, Savage Art portrays Thompson as a brilliant and incredibly sensitive man who was capable of so much more, but managed to squeeze out some brilliant works in his brief moments of stability. It shouldn't need to be said at this point, but Savage Art is high recommended for any Thompson fan.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Raegan Butcher

    Jim Thompson's life was like one of his books. Bummer for Jim Thompson. Jim Thompson's life was like one of his books. Bummer for Jim Thompson.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Graham P

    An exhausting, revealing and cumbersome biography of one of the greatest (and at times, most uninspired) American crime writers. Polito doesn't hold back detailing the Thompson family prior to the writer's birth, and painstakingly moves ahead into his troubled childhood (no, not as wretched as some might expect). It becomes clear to the reader that Thompson was a sensitive observer with an eye towards the gutter, whether working at a seedy hotel in Texas, or later, when he became involved with t An exhausting, revealing and cumbersome biography of one of the greatest (and at times, most uninspired) American crime writers. Polito doesn't hold back detailing the Thompson family prior to the writer's birth, and painstakingly moves ahead into his troubled childhood (no, not as wretched as some might expect). It becomes clear to the reader that Thompson was a sensitive observer with an eye towards the gutter, whether working at a seedy hotel in Texas, or later, when he became involved with the Communist Party in Oklahoma. Soon the booze latched onto Thompson, and while he lived out what was a rather 'normal' American life, his addiction and the despair to follow fed his classic 1st person novels of the fifties, the classics. Supposedly, he wrote the bulk of this cherished work in a two-year span, and it's a mad work ethic that some writers would envy, or downright dismiss - for after the completion of several of these novels, he had suffered from nervous breakdowns, one landing him in Bellevue, NYC. While I had to slog through some of this 500+ page opus, I still think it's an important work, and one that showed the successes and many failures of a writer, who at first wanted to be William Faulkner, and then coined his own style of unique pulp madness that even today is jarring, raw and vicious (read the climaxes of 'Savage Night', 'The Getaway' and 'Hell of a Woman' and you'll know why).

  7. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Incredibly exhaustive biography of the now-celebrated author of great crime noirs like The Grifters, After Dark My Sweet, The Getaway, and The Killer Inside Me (those are the only four I've read). While the early chapters go waaay more into his grandfather's and father's lives than I really cared about, this is a well-written and more often than not interesting account of a conflicted, rather tragic man–a writer of genuine cult status who was simply not appreciated to the extent he deserved duri Incredibly exhaustive biography of the now-celebrated author of great crime noirs like The Grifters, After Dark My Sweet, The Getaway, and The Killer Inside Me (those are the only four I've read). While the early chapters go waaay more into his grandfather's and father's lives than I really cared about, this is a well-written and more often than not interesting account of a conflicted, rather tragic man–a writer of genuine cult status who was simply not appreciated to the extent he deserved during his lifetime. Now that I've finally finished this bio I've got some real catching up to do with Thompson's oeuvre, and I look forward to it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brent Legault

    More than a little exhaustive. I could have done without much of it, especially his early life, which I found to be a yawn. But later, when the novels and their circumstances were discussed, things perked up. And then, there was the picture of him with the cat. That alone was worth working through countless yawns.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    On "Savage Art" This definitive biography of the writer Jim Thompson starts with a short assessment of his work, of what makes it so powerful, so different from other crime fiction--namely, that Thompson subverted the normal means of telling crime stories by taking their cliches to the extreme. He found an audience later probably because his rather nihilistic portraits worked better for readers of the late twentieth century than for the early. We get crooks with no saving graces--and cops who are On "Savage Art" This definitive biography of the writer Jim Thompson starts with a short assessment of his work, of what makes it so powerful, so different from other crime fiction--namely, that Thompson subverted the normal means of telling crime stories by taking their cliches to the extreme. He found an audience later probably because his rather nihilistic portraits worked better for readers of the late twentieth century than for the early. We get crooks with no saving graces--and cops who are crooks. And yet, disturbing as the portraits are, we do sometimes feel with them. Next Pulito delves into Thompson's familial background--some Native American and the rest going back to the early days of the United States, migrating over the generations from east to west. Thompson himself was the son of a sheriff, born atop the city jail. He grew up for much of his youth in Oklahoma, but his father had good times and bad times financially. A big spender, unable to save, he provided a home that was feast or famine. During the famine times, as he traipsed off to find a better life, his wife would often go to live with relatives in Nebraska, and hence, that too became a home for the young Jim. Finally, Thompson's dad hit it big for a while in the oil trade, and the family moved to Fort Worth. There, however, fortunes eventually sank, and Thompson went to work as a bellhop, where many of his experiences led to events recounted in his novels. Here, he learned the grift; he served as the getter and giver of drugs, hookers, alcohol, and other things bellhops were often looked to for. Meanwhile, he went to high school, all the while working eight hours a night, doping and especially drinking and smoking to stay alert. Eventually, by age nineteen, still in school, it led to a breakdown. Thompson's relationship with his dad was not a good one. Dad was a mover, a worker. Thompson was quiet and big on books--writing was not real work in Dad's view. Dad had little respect for Jim. And Jim lacked respect for the dad who left the family by turns and spent out the family fortune whenever it come to be. During his time as bellhop, Thompson saved $1100, which he'd planned to use to support the family after he got out of the hospital and was unable to work for a while--his father stole it, investing it in another get rich scheme that went nowhere. The family suffered. Thompson spent a couple of years after that in the oil fields, working various jobs. These adventures would become part of his writing later. His mom even came down and joined him, helping to set up a restaurant that quickly went nowhere. Eventually, Jim headed to college, in his mid- to late twenties. There, he majored in agricultural journalism, doing well in the writing and English classes and abominably in just about everything else. He met a lot of other writers, however. During this time, he began to court the sister of his brother-in-law. The father of the girl really liked him, but the mother not so much. Hence, when the father died, the mother did her utmost to break them up. The girl married someone else, and Thomposon went into a spate of depression, broken up eventually by a blind date arranged by that brother-in-law. The woman he eventually married also had a family that didn't much care for him, and in this case, Thompson's family didn't much care for her. The issue seemed to be one of class--these women were from better-off families, and Thompson would not be able to provide the kind of living these women were accustomed to (or, in the case of the first gal, needed, as she was semi-invalid from an accident she'd had as a young girl). Nevertheless, Thompson and his girlfriend eloped, then lived apart thereafter for a few months, eventually being caught, as the wife came to visit Thompson alone at various times. During this time, Thompson worked and went to college, keeping a schedule much like he had in high school (only now his father was in the throes of whatw as probably Alzheimer's and needed lots of care). But as the Depression years came on strong, even the work dried up. Jim tried his hand at writing--any he could scrounge up. He sold a fair number of pieces to newspapers and crime journals, often under other names. But the work was not consistent. He tried to get jobs editing for newspapers, and finally one of these attempts led to a job with the Oklahoma WPA. After being hired on by a man who would become a good friend, Bill Cunningham, Jim would work on a guide for the state. He'd also become involved with the Communist Party, an involvement that would lead to a schism between different people involved with the WPA. This would eventually oust Cunningham as head of the Oklahoma division, and Thompson would take his place. Among writers Thompson would work with was Louis L'Amour. Thompson's writing at this time consisted still of various pieces for crime magazines under pseudonyms, folk stories gathered for the WPA, and Depression-era proletarian-type stories. One of the latter would garner enough attention to land Thompson a book deal with Viking, but though he completed the novel (sending it in in installments), it would never be published, in part because it would lack cohesiveness. Eventually, Thompson's communist leadings (combined with, ironically, a milktoast labor history that others commissioned Thompson's agency to write that Thompson actually didn't want to do) would lead to his dismissal from the WPA. The state guide Thompson has worked so hard on would sit for nine months until another head was appointed and the agency got back to work; that writer would then take the bulk of the credit for editing of the guide. Thompson meanwhile came up with a book idea for which he got sponsorship and off of which he lived for a year. The book was a series of stories/interviews with various laborers; it, too, would lack cohesiveness, straddling a line between nonfiction, which it was supposed to be, and fiction. It would never be published. After this came a stint in San Diego. The expectation was that Thompson might scrounge up some work in screenwriting, but nothing materialized. After some dead-end jobs and a few Thompson was good at but had little enthusiasm for, Thompson sent his family back to Nebraska and headed off to New York, where many of his labor and writing friends were now residing. The idea was that there was a job there waiting for him, but it was gone by the time he got there. Instead, Thompson tried to sell his work again, visiting various publishers. Eventually, he got a publisher to take him up on his pledge to write a novel in ten days if they'd lend him a typewriter. The work, completed in about five weeks, was his first published novel, Now and on Earth. It was heavily autobiographical and still focused quite a bit on labor issues. (In fact, in his personal life, Thompson was moving away from the communist leanings he had had, wanting to write something different, something that would both sell and say something, something grittier and less idealized.) Underneath the novel's characterizations were hints of the crime novel protagonists to come. It received decent reviews but didn't sell very well. Old WPA friends in New York helped Thompson find a home for his next book, Heed the Thunder, which was a kind of epic Okie historical novel, written under a similar deal as the first. Meanwhile, Thompson had written, and rewritten, a masterpiece called The Unholy Grail. Eventually, it (the eighth draft) would be published as Nothing More than Murder, but not before he had to take more newspaper writing gigs in San Diego and Los Angeles. His firing from the latter gig happened as he finally sold said novel--and received, for once, the critical and popular attention he'd needed to become a novelist. Strangely, the success of the book, however, didn't lead to more opportunities in terms of book publishing. Two subsequent novels, The Recoil and The Golden Gizmo, went unsold. Thompson took day jobs again. And then, his agent came upon Lion Books. It was a magazine publisher looking for paperback originals to sell into newstands. Thompson went to work writing books for them. The relationship would lead to more than half his career output, as he managed to writing something like fourteen books in the next five years. The success also kept him from drinking as prolifically or uncontrollably as he had--what often led to him losing his day jobs. The first of these books was The Killer Inside Me. Thompson was handed a plot and then told to write it. But the plot was about a New York City cop who kills a woman. Thompson changed the setting to small-town Texas, the cop to a psycho, the woman to women. The publisher didn't care--when the editors saw the first draft of the first half, they knew Thompson knew what he was doing. Other books followed, with such speed that it's impossible really to know what was written when. Some books were still coming out years later. Pulito opts to put the books into categories in summarizing them: first-person psychos, multiple narrators, third-person novels, autobiographies, and cul-de-sacs. The latter are the handful of dead ends, dunces, bad books. Note to self: I need to read Savage Night, Nowhere Man, A Swell-Looking Babe, The Criminal, and The Kill-Off, as well as the later book The Getaway and the earlier Nothing More than Murder. And then, the editor at Lion Books left and the magazine company was sold, and Lion Books closed. Thompson, essentially, was out of a job. He went back to drinking heavily. Other crime writers got new publishers; somehow, Thompson's agent could not find him a home, despite the fact that Thompson generally got good reviews and sold about 250,000 copies per title. No reason can be determined, but Thompson thought it was because his novels were so violent. He attempted to pull back, writing some clunkers like The Expensive Sky and The Concrete Pasture. But mostly he just drank, sold short pieces, and worked, for short spans, day jobs--one copyediting at a newspaper. Along came Stanley Kubrick. A fan of Thompson's, Kubrick was a budding filmmaker whose first film lacked a decent script. He hired Thompson to write (the dialogue) for the second screeplay, an adaptation of a crime novel. The film became The Killing and got rave reviews. Thompson was livid, however, about the screenwriting credit, which Kubrick took for himself, dropping Thompson down as merely the dialogue writer. Thompson insisted, if he was to write for Kubrick again, he be credited fully. And so it was, when he came on to writing Paths of Glory, for five hundred dollars a week. The degree to which the final screenplay reflects anything he wrote, however, is up for debate. The first draft was overhauled twice, and the writer of the rewrites claims nothing was left of Thompson's work, but Pulito's examination of the scripts suggests that maybe half of Thompson's dialogue and many of the scenes stuck. Either way, Thompson's name is on the byline--as the third writer. After this, however, Kubrick moved on--he didn't think Thompson appropriate for adapting Lolita or other non-crime faire. About this time, Thompson managed to sell another novel--not one of the clunkers written years before but something new: a revisit with Sheriff Ford: Wild Town. Neither a prequel or sequel to The Killer inside Me, the book is sort of an alternate universe with many of the same characters from the previous book. The book sold to NAL. But editors never gave Thompson the kind of freedom he'd had at Lion. They suggested he start up a detective series, with the same characters--for example, Lou Ford. Or they wanted endings that were "moral," wherein the book managed to show that crime didn't pay. With such shackles, Thompson could not flourish. Thompson took up writing occasionally for television, but there the shackles were even greater. He did not do well writing for committee. In time, screenplay work dried up, since he was not fast and not able, often, to stick to plans. Pulp magazine publishing also dried up, since television largely replaced it. Meanwhile, he sold a book called The Getaway, which he had to assure the publisher would end in a "moral" way. When it ended not to the publisher's liking, he stuck to his guns, unwilling to change it to something more realistic. Thompson was also hired to write a novel/screenplay called Cloudburst, but as he often did, he veered way off the plan for the work. The book ended up being another Lou Ford alternate universe (though the protagonist's name would be changed to Tom Lord to avoid rights issues), and there would be no screenplay. In time, he was able to wrest control of the project from the filmmaker and publish the book as The Transgressors. Also published during this time was The Grifters and Pop. 1280, but these works would be the last to show off Thompson's powers. After this, his work, when he could sell it, would descend into nostalgia and/or needlessly lurid sex and violence, as in Texas by the Tail, South of Heaven, and King Blood, the latter of which would be pulled by the publisher before seeing publication in the United States and would not appear until after his death. His last book, published as Child of Rage would be similarly tainted, as if, as Pulito claims, Thompson was struggling still to shock in a culture that was now more sexually liberated. Still other work involved writing novelizations of films and televisions shows, which he did a few of for standard fees. Drinking during this time took its toll also, and Thompson ended up in the hospital and near death several times. Told to stop drinking and smoking, he'd resume both soon after leaving the hospital each time. Poverty, too, was a problem, since hospital bills stacked up and he wasn't selling much work. He resented the fact that he was not better known and that his work was not more fully accepted. Most was out of print, and when he did manage to sell a book, it was for the same sum as he'd made for years, unlike other big pulp writers who seemed to be making more for each publication. Still, there was interest in his work for film adaptation. Several novels would be optioned at various times. Thompson didn't own copies of most of his books, so he had to scrounge them up from a used book store or send photocopies, when producers asked to see and consider his work. A big break came with the sale of The Getaway. Thompson wrote the first two drafts of the screenplay, but in the end, someone else took over the project and he ended up with no credit--but a nice paycheck (though not as nice as he would have gotten writing the screenplay). The book in the film became merely an action flick with a happy ending--not a tolerably great adaptation, but still well grossing for the year. Struggling still to write, Thompson would face multiple strokes until he could barely talk. Eventually, tired and knowing he could write no longer, he starved himself to death. Through it all, his wife Alberta stuck with him and he with her. He complained about her a lot, but when asked why he wouldn't divorce her, he said that he could never do that to her. (Given his drinking, it's a wonder she didn't divorce him.) He was the one to cook each night, but otherwise, it appears she took care of managing their life. When she had a heart attack, he was as devoted at her bedside as she had been with him through his various ailments. It was love. The ending to this life seems to come quickly when it finally comes--he's a man who should have died years earlier, one gets the feeling. The real joy of the read for me involved Thompson's communist sympathizer days and the ushering in of his midlife success. The dreariness of life thereafter made the book a rather sad slog in its last hundred pages or so, but such, one might say, is life--most especially Thompson's.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Coleman

    Jim Thompson wrote such classics as THE KILLER INSIDE ME, NOTHING MORE THAN MURDER and THE GETAWAY, amongst so many other great works. This searing, non-holds barred account of his life and death is at once tragic and inspiring. It's a downer because Thompson never received the acclaim he deserved during his lifetime; it's a lift because if ever a writer spewed his psyche onto the printed page and lived eternally because of it, Jim Thompson is The Man. If you love Thompson, this is a 'must read.' Jim Thompson wrote such classics as THE KILLER INSIDE ME, NOTHING MORE THAN MURDER and THE GETAWAY, amongst so many other great works. This searing, non-holds barred account of his life and death is at once tragic and inspiring. It's a downer because Thompson never received the acclaim he deserved during his lifetime; it's a lift because if ever a writer spewed his psyche onto the printed page and lived eternally because of it, Jim Thompson is The Man. If you love Thompson, this is a 'must read.'

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joe Noir

    One of the best biographies I've ever read. Even the early slow parts are interesting. I would wager that everything you would ever want to know about Thompson is in this book. Some might say it would make an interesting film, but no, it has to be a book. Read it and you'll see what I mean. I was going through a tough time back when I read this book, and it helped pull me through. The photos included are excellent. One of the best biographies I've ever read. Even the early slow parts are interesting. I would wager that everything you would ever want to know about Thompson is in this book. Some might say it would make an interesting film, but no, it has to be a book. Read it and you'll see what I mean. I was going through a tough time back when I read this book, and it helped pull me through. The photos included are excellent.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stephen J.

    Disappointing. Dry. Boring. This “biography” was really difficult to get through. At times I wanted to throw it across the room because it was so frustratingly boring. If I pay for a book I always try and finish it but this really pushed me to the ultimate limit. How can you take Thompson’s hard drinking, womanizing, carousing, hard scrabble life in the oil fields, New York, Hollywood and make it boring!? Robert Polito can not write! This biography is basically a boring, pedantic analysis of Tho Disappointing. Dry. Boring. This “biography” was really difficult to get through. At times I wanted to throw it across the room because it was so frustratingly boring. If I pay for a book I always try and finish it but this really pushed me to the ultimate limit. How can you take Thompson’s hard drinking, womanizing, carousing, hard scrabble life in the oil fields, New York, Hollywood and make it boring!? Robert Polito can not write! This biography is basically a boring, pedantic analysis of Thompson’s work. Whole extracts are pasted into this biography with no other point than to boost the page number it seems. Extremely frustrating if you haven’t read certain novels of Thompson’s yet as Polito completely spoils them by pasting in the key moments from the novels and then explaining the endings. Robert Polito made Thompson seem like a whiny, petty drunk. He focuses on the most boring aspects of Thompson’s life. Nearly 200 pages are spent on Thompson’s limited flirtations with socialism and communism. 200 pages!! Why!? but his womanizing, marital problems and mental depressions are given a few sparse sentences here and there. Polito wrote this book for himself. One of the worst books I’ve read in three years. The only reason I even gave this 2 stars is because I’m a massive fan of Thompson’s and have all of his novels. I’ll never read anything by Polito again.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Jackson

    A long tough read, but well worth it for any fan of Thompson. His life was as hard, mean, and interesting as those of the lives of his characters. A greater appreciation of his novels is the result of this exhaustive look at the writer's life. A long tough read, but well worth it for any fan of Thompson. His life was as hard, mean, and interesting as those of the lives of his characters. A greater appreciation of his novels is the result of this exhaustive look at the writer's life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Drunk at 12, Thompson established his sense of the noir and blackened it with venomous prose. Polito covers all the bases, empties all the closets to portray Thompson, one of Oklahoma's greatest, and least sung, writers. Drunk at 12, Thompson established his sense of the noir and blackened it with venomous prose. Polito covers all the bases, empties all the closets to portray Thompson, one of Oklahoma's greatest, and least sung, writers.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Vargas

    not (nearly) as great as thompson's books, but a dang interesting biography. not (nearly) as great as thompson's books, but a dang interesting biography.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Larry Webber

    An interesting assessment of JT

  17. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Pierce

    Swell biography of the master of literary noir. Thompson's life was extremely fucked up, and Polito pays him the respect he deserves without ever letting him off the hook. Swell biography of the master of literary noir. Thompson's life was extremely fucked up, and Polito pays him the respect he deserves without ever letting him off the hook.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Susanne

    I've had to put reading this on hold because it gives away a lot of the plots of his books and I haven't read them all yet. I've had to put reading this on hold because it gives away a lot of the plots of his books and I haven't read them all yet.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Cumbersome collection of all things Thompson. An impressive but overweight work.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    Love Thompson, hated the biography.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sheldon Russell

    Carefully researched & well written.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Simply put: Robert Polito's rigorously compiled and exhaustive biography of Jim Thompson is the finest biography of a writer (or at any rate the one that has meant the most to me) that I have read since James Knowlson's Samuel Beckett dealy (which I read many years ago indeed). I have been a big fan of Jim Thompson since I first read THE KILLER INSIDE ME as a teenager, and much like Luc Sante, I have always seen Thompson as investing the tawdry crime paperback of the 1950s w/ a ferocious avant-g Simply put: Robert Polito's rigorously compiled and exhaustive biography of Jim Thompson is the finest biography of a writer (or at any rate the one that has meant the most to me) that I have read since James Knowlson's Samuel Beckett dealy (which I read many years ago indeed). I have been a big fan of Jim Thompson since I first read THE KILLER INSIDE ME as a teenager, and much like Luc Sante, I have always seen Thompson as investing the tawdry crime paperback of the 1950s w/ a ferocious avant-garde streak. His greatest works possess a brutal existential fatalism bordering on the nihilistic. They are works of tremendous darkness, violence, cruelty, rage, bitterness, and something like mirthless resignation. A number of years ago I read Thompson's own autobiographical BAD BOY, and though I was acutely aware of a writer cultivating myth about himself, it was clear that beneath the braggadocio and tall-tale-telling this was a man with a hell of a story. Well, that's putting it mildly. Through extensive research and interviewing Polito shows extraordinary deftness in placing Thompson in early 20th century America. Raised in Oklahoma and Nebraska, Thompson was the son of a legendary Oklahoma law man, soon to become a disgraced ex-lawman and preternaturally unlucky Texas oilman, fantastically bad with money. He was extremely close to his mother, with whose Nebraska family he spent much of his youth. As a young man Jim was a mild-mannered and well-liked emergent alcoholic w/ a propensity to work himself near to death. He became a man on the move, roughneck and hobo, then college kid, then rising up the ranks of the Oklahoma Writers Project during the depression. Thompson spent his life consistently in active alcoholism and fighting endless uphill battles. Nonetheless, in the 1950s he managed to produce a string of masterpieces in remarkably short order. Part of the great pleasure inherent to reading biographies such as this one is getting a purchase on a life and seeing how a seemingly random set of forces and contingencies can converge in a person (a person flung into existence as if randomly) to produce singular feats of creativity that alter history in a modest (or not so modest) way. It inspires. Reading about a life, and knowing it was a real life that was really lived, helps fortify in me the knowledge that I do not know what is in store for me, and that I may be capable of remarkable things. As a recovering alcoholic myself - not to mention a man whose identity as a youth was forged in despair and apocalyptic rage - I am especially able to relate to Thompson's struggles (also: we are similarly very tall!). Of course, Thompson is not the only subject of this biography; the 20th century is as well. Polito has done a great job of placing a man and his work (fruitfully parsed) in the context of time and place. And enough cannot be said about how much work has gone into this justifiably-highly-regarded biography. It is supremely dense with data. Plus: one hell of a yarn.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    So it turns out that the story of Jim Thompson’s life reads much like a Jim Thompson tale. And like many Jim Thompson tales, it’s really good and sadly tragic. I don’t know how a person can do better at connecting an artist’s life to his work the way Robert Polito does. In covering the events that formed Jim Thompson, Polito brings up ramblings and characters from Thompson’s body of work that obviously influenced the man. Jim Thompson’s one of my all-time favorite writers so to see how he became w So it turns out that the story of Jim Thompson’s life reads much like a Jim Thompson tale. And like many Jim Thompson tales, it’s really good and sadly tragic. I don’t know how a person can do better at connecting an artist’s life to his work the way Robert Polito does. In covering the events that formed Jim Thompson, Polito brings up ramblings and characters from Thompson’s body of work that obviously influenced the man. Jim Thompson’s one of my all-time favorite writers so to see how he became what he became made me appreciate his work even more. It also made me incredibly sad for his life. This day in age, Thompson would have more resources to treat his alcoholism and depression, along with a more sympathetic society. Part of the reason why Thompson was able to write so effectively about sad sacks and their existential crises is that he was a sad sack who endured many an existential crisis. Polito brings out the human side in the man who was apparently quite polite and gentle to others but who wrote from the deepest recesses of his Oedpial Complex in almost every novel. I do wish there had been more about his relationship to his wife and kids. There’s plenty about his contentious history with his father but not nearly enough on the latter. Maybe his kids didn’t want to talk about him? He seemed to be a frequently absentee dad and husband, whose wife loved him regardless. Either way, I wanted to know more in this regard. Nevertheless, this is as good of a Jim Thompson biography as I could have hoped for and it almost singlehandedly made the Year of Jim Thompson worth it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alonzo Church

    If you have ever read a Jim Thompson book, the man who appears in this isn’t too surprising. Well, maybe he’s nicer than you might expect, and the famous names that were important to his career can surprise (Louis L’amour? Woody Guthrie?) But Thompson never got the fame in his lifetime that his paperbacks from the early 50s should have brought him. So the themes of bitterness, down market crime, and terrifying sheriffs occur in his life, as well as the books. An interesting read, but beware — th If you have ever read a Jim Thompson book, the man who appears in this isn’t too surprising. Well, maybe he’s nicer than you might expect, and the famous names that were important to his career can surprise (Louis L’amour? Woody Guthrie?) But Thompson never got the fame in his lifetime that his paperbacks from the early 50s should have brought him. So the themes of bitterness, down market crime, and terrifying sheriffs occur in his life, as well as the books. An interesting read, but beware — this book is full of spoilers to Thompson’s books. You may want to hold off reading this until you get through The Killer Inside Me and three or four others.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    It's amazing how Robert Polito details Jim Thompson pecking out a new crime novel or script treatment or some such piece of writing in a frenzied, short period of time. It seems that writing is all that Thompson wanted to do, could do and had to do to keep his demons at bay. This is a well-researched, detailed look at the gritty crime novelist, whose fame and notoriety ebbed and flowed during his 71 years Now and On Earth. The showy Hollywood bones are there - The Getaway, The Grifters, The Kille It's amazing how Robert Polito details Jim Thompson pecking out a new crime novel or script treatment or some such piece of writing in a frenzied, short period of time. It seems that writing is all that Thompson wanted to do, could do and had to do to keep his demons at bay. This is a well-researched, detailed look at the gritty crime novelist, whose fame and notoriety ebbed and flowed during his 71 years Now and On Earth. The showy Hollywood bones are there - The Getaway, The Grifters, The Killer Inside Me, The Killing - as well as the pulp pieces.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Tavren

    Jim Thompson was too weird to live and too rare to die, which he did when the bottle took him. Until then, for a period, he was probably the most daring crime author to ever live, with a couple of mixed results (I swear I'll give THE GETAWAY another try). No stone is left unturned. And! Robert Polito seems to agree with me that "THE KILLER INSIDE ME" is fairly anti-police! And that's gotta be worth 5 stars. Jim Thompson was too weird to live and too rare to die, which he did when the bottle took him. Until then, for a period, he was probably the most daring crime author to ever live, with a couple of mixed results (I swear I'll give THE GETAWAY another try). No stone is left unturned. And! Robert Polito seems to agree with me that "THE KILLER INSIDE ME" is fairly anti-police! And that's gotta be worth 5 stars.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    As thorough a biography as one can expect about a man who tended to cloud his personal history with exaggerated tales. But the author does make clear that point and doesn't add his speculations to the text. Lots of family photos. The book is docked one star for the large format paperback edition's binding. Inferior glue was used and as one reads, sections of the book start separating from the spine. As thorough a biography as one can expect about a man who tended to cloud his personal history with exaggerated tales. But the author does make clear that point and doesn't add his speculations to the text. Lots of family photos. The book is docked one star for the large format paperback edition's binding. Inferior glue was used and as one reads, sections of the book start separating from the spine.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Sims

    Other reviewers who called this book 'exhaustive' are correct. I found it a compelling study of a passionate, deeply flawed writer who kept it going to the bitter end. Other reviewers who called this book 'exhaustive' are correct. I found it a compelling study of a passionate, deeply flawed writer who kept it going to the bitter end.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Dionne

    Very dry and comprehensive biography of Jim Thompson, writer - background and motivation well done by Robert Polito.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Scarlet

    Lovingly researched, full of wonderful trivia about pulp magazines/fiction and cinema. Best chapters are toward the end on Thompson's work with New Hollywood and Kubrick. Lovingly researched, full of wonderful trivia about pulp magazines/fiction and cinema. Best chapters are toward the end on Thompson's work with New Hollywood and Kubrick.

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