This book seemed so-so right up until the last two sentences, when it blew me away.
“Pick-up,” by Charles Willeford, was published in 1955. I have a Black Lizard edition.
The book revolves around Harry, a hard-luck loser of sorts who bounces around aimlessly, and of the troubled gal he befriends and romances. We see him in all kinds of contexts–in bars, with friends, with criminals, with the police, at work, with the gal’s mother, in jail–some of everything. Nothing much really happens. There is no mystery to be solved. We just see Harry interacting with a lot of different people in a lot of different situations.
Frankly, it sporadically bored me. As I turned the last page, I was already thinking about the next book I would start. Then I got to the last couple lines:
I left the shelter of the awning and walked up the hill in the rain.
Just a tall, lonely Negro.
Walking in the rain.
Until that point, I didn’t realize Harry was black. Willeford gave no clues. So throughout the book, I had pictured a white guy interacting with people in all of these situations. And since it’s written in first-person, from Harry’s point of view, I thought I was seeing everything through a white man’s eyes.
But after learning that he was black, it changed the whole book. Now I had to insert a black man into all of those interactions in 1950s Los Angeles. And that made it a whole different story. I found myself retracing the various scenes of the book, replacing my white guy with a black guy. And I realized how brilliant the book was.
Imagine the extra impact this would have had when it was published in 1955. (Sorry I ruined the ending, but I figured this isn’t a book you would ever come across.)Leave a comment