Sunday, June 27, 2010

This Is Why I Don't Go Out Drinking in the City Alone: A Look at Fright by Cornell Woolrich


"He was twenty-five that year, 1915, and his name was Prescott Marshall." --Fright, Cornell Woolrich

AHHHHHHH!!!!!!! For the love of all that's holy, Cornell Woolrich!!! Why? WHY?!?!?!?! F&*KI&#%G#D*&MN*ON%&*B*&T*H!!!!!!!!!!!!

It's no good even pretending to be a lady. This book left me speechless. Literally speechless. Not "Oh wow. this is such a good book. What a pleasant reading experience" speechless. Or "Wow that was a really awesome ending" speechless. Nope. White-hot rage, electric shocks pulsing through my system, blasphemy-riddled thoughts frightening my mind speechless. The fact that I am even able to write these words is a testament to my sheer will-power. If not, I might still be sitting up in bed, staring at the last page of Cornell Woolrich's Fright. Sheer will power and I had to bring it back to the library soooo....

Published in 1950 under the pen name George Hope, Fright tells the story of poor pathetic Prescott Marshall, an up-and-comer in 1915, New York City. At 25 years old, he seems to have a fine life going for him. He has a rising career on Wall Street and a beautiful society girl named Marjorie on his arm who, gosh-darn-it, is just as crazy about him as he is about her (her family's money and social prominence don't hurt either). So at the start of our tale, Press seems to know where his towel is and he's just as pleased as pie. Poor bastard. He has no idea he's the main character in a roman noir.

Things start unraveling on the night he plans to propose to Marjorie. As he's getting ready to pick her up, she finds out that her aunt and uncle, both passengers aboard the doomed Lusitania, have been found dead. Obviously, she can't go out and this leaves Press alone for the night with no other plans. So what does he do? Go out drinking, of course! Alone! Because that's ALWAYS a good idea. He gets so drunk that he eventually passes out on the sidewalk. In New York City. Smart boy, that Prescott Marshall. Finally, Press sobers up, proposes to Marjorie, she accepts, and all seems right as Turn-of-the-20th-Century rain until a mysterious young woman knocks on his apartment door. This is noir, after all, a mysterious young woman had to show up eventually. And wouldn't you know, she has some pretty unfortunate news. Turns out, while Press was drunk out of his mind, he met this girl, brought her home, and slept with her. And now she wants X amount of money to keep quiet about it. Yay! So begins Press's journey down a path of ever-intensifying mental instability that would make even Hamlet say, "Wow, dude, come on. Nothing's that bad."

Woolrich's writing style takes a little getting used to at first. Much of his language is outdated and over-the-top, but he more than makes up for it with his storytelling abilities. He cuts out and enters into scenes in unexpected places, forcing your attention, urging you on, making your mind reel as you try to imagine what could possibly happen next. He uses repetition in a way I've never seen before, mostly to aid dark humor. There's a lot of dark, downright grim, humor in Fright. Also his descriptions are some of the most gorgeous I've ever read. None of the characters are that likable--Press does everything wrong, Marjorie is a DOORMAT, and I was actually rooting for the Mysterious Young Woman at one point--and yet somehow, I managed to get emotionally caught up in their journey. So much so that by the end, I was staring at the book in a blind rage and would have thrown it across the room if I could have summoned the energy. Also 1915 is such an unorthodox year for a roman noir to take place in. I found it oddly refreshing to see such heinous goings-on in such an over-idealized time period. The Happiest Millionaire will never be the same.

I didn't enjoy Fright, per say. It's a very bleak ride, but it's a good book. I also recommend I Married a Dead Man, the first book I read by Woolrich, which is also very good and not surprisingly, also very twisted.

P.S. Take a look at the pulp wundertraum that is that cover. I guess the girl is supposed to be The Mysterious Young Woman but she's basically Marilyn Monroe. Especially since the Mysterious Young Woman is described as looking very childlike. And the guy looks like he's just been electrocuted.

6 comments:

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