The Fragile White Man in “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” by Horace McCoy

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy

“What’s the matter with you?” he said suddenly. “What are you shaking about.”
“Shaking?” I was. I hadn’t been aware of it, but I was. I was shaking all over.

My relationship with the noir crime fiction novel Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy is complicated. In brief, I’ve started it 3 times over the last decade. I just couldn’t seem to get through it. What does that mean? …I dunno, but it ain’t good. Not that the story isn’t worthy, it just never wounded me deeply enough to keep my focus. (You know those books that mess you up some, and you have to see them through in order to heal? Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye wasn’t that kinda book for me).

I’m exhausted even thinking about tapping out a synopsis for this one so I’ll leave it at this: It begins a bit like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and ends a bit like The Great Gatsby. BUT, it’s not as funny as “O Brother” and lacks the finesse of Gatsby. Don’t let that scare you away; it’s still got all the tough guy pulpy bits in between.

Horace McCoy

The fragile, fearful, furious white male anti-hero in the novel is Ralph Cotter. He’s a lot of things. Here are some of my favorites:

Ralph Cotter is a Racist

“Tell him to get out, goddamn it, tell him to get out,” I said. The black boy stood there, tensed like a goddamn tiger, his eyes riveted on Mandon now, just waiting for the signal to spring. I was scared of him. I knew goddamn well that I could bring him down with a bullet, I knew what a bullet could do when it hit you in the middle of the stomach, but I was still scared of him. “Tell him to get out,” I said again.

…the Negro had disappeared. I felt better with him out of sight.”

Hmmm… racist. In a different passage, he speaks to this man’s “master” and coaches him on how he should train the “boy.”

Ralph Cotter is a Homophobe

Hurry up, you son-of-a-bitch, I was thinking, but I confess that I felt some admiration for his poise. He seemed entirely unaware that another man was standing beside him. How any man can go into a lavatory and be unaware of other men, impervious to them, fully at ease, untortured, I do not understand, but this one was.

Afraid of men in the men’s bathroom? What does he expect to happen? Later in the novel, he has to chase down a contact in a gay bar. Here’s a gem from section:

I made a sudden and extraordinary discovery. The noxiousness and disgust I had felt a few moments earlier were gone, my own strength and virility, of which I was so proud when I entered, with which I could prove our difference, now served only to emphasize our sameness. We all had a touch of twilight in our souls; in every man there are homosexual tendencies, this is immutable, there is no variant, the only variant is the depth of the latency, but in me these tendencies were not being stirred, even faintly, they were there, but this was not stirring them. No.

Who are you trying to convince, Ralph? Yikes! Be comfortable in your own skin for once in your life!

Ralph Cotter is a Misogynist

I could not hope that I had aroused in her what she had aroused in me, I could not hope that she was even interested… I resolved then that before I got through with her she’d be interested…

Ralph has just met this woman, and he finds her irresistibly attractive. The problem is she doesn’t reciprocate. He finds this unacceptable (yuck).

I knew why she was belligerent; nobody had given her a tumble. She had put the rises and falls of her body on exhibit and nobody had paid the slightest attention… That is why she was belligerent.

Of course. She’s got an attitude so that means she must be craving sexual attention. Riiiiiggggghhhhhttttt… More of the same:

She was thinking of the first time she’d seen him, when she’d put her body on display for him in that pleasant predatory way that women have, and he had disregarded it, showing no interest in the rises and falls and curves of her body… This was what had burned her up…

Ralph Cotter is a Narcissist

“I came into crime through choice and not through environment. I didn’t grow up in the slums with a drunk for a father and a 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… Use me not as a preachment in your literature or your movies. This I have wrought, I and I alone.”

I absolutely LOVE that he anticipates that his career will make him SO famous that literature and movies will be created about him. ‘What a piece of work’ I think as I complete an article ALL about him…

Ralph Cotter is Afraid

I couldn’t turn it off, I did not want to remember it, I had been a lifetime learning to forget, but I could not turn it off.

Goddamn that radio, I wasn’t listening for anything in particular, I just turned it on to kill time, and this was what I had heard. And this was what it had dug up. Get out of my mind, you ghosts, I told them, I’ll remember you later…

Afraid of the past, afraid of women & minorities, afraid of marriage, & so so much more.

The book was published in 1948, but the character is terribly recognizable in 2018. Fragile, fearful, furious white men are everywhere. Are we witnessing the death spasm of this deeply embedded, American mindset? Or the rebirth of the same old stuff?

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Filed under Noir Crime Fiction

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