Harper Perennial, 2012, 374 pp.
NOIR IS, BY ITS VERY NATURE, funny stuff. I don’t mean private eye pastiche or screwball capers, but the real deal, dark-as-night, doom-and-gloom, moon-in-the-gutter stuff. The futile fight against fate is the noir protagonist’s lot in life. From one angle, it’s a tragic burden; from another, it allows us to ease existential anxieties through cruel laughter. Orrie Hitt, Day Keene, and Harry Whittington wrote of endless armies of middle-class everymen who brought about their own destruction by thinking more with their pants than with their brains. Even the melancholic David Goodis wasn’t without his own bitter sense of irony — Dark Passage follows a man who, in order to prove that he innocent of murder, must ultimately prove that he is capable of murder. Then there are the psychopaths of Jim Thompson and Jason Starr, who are so impressed and amused by their own violence that they miss the writing on the wall that spells certain disaster. To this long, laughable lineage we can now add Dan Jordan, the spermless hero of Greg Bardsley’s debut novel, Cash Out.
It is 2008. Jordan is an ex-reporter who sold out his moralistic ambition for a hefty paycheck as a speechwriter for FlowBid, a rising Silicon Valley start up. As the book begins, Jordan’s gamble is about to pay off big — in a few days, he’ll collect the first installment of his stock option, and he plans to sell out fast, buy a beach shack, and settle into a luxurious early retirement.
It is noon on a Tuesday, and I’m sitting in a dark lounge. By Friday, I’ll have $1.1 million deposited into my bank account. I’ll be like a bird uncaged, ready to fly away with my family, ready to start a new life. All I need to do is last another three days. Oh, and brave my way through a vasectomy.
Those scissors should have been the first sign of impending doom.
As the doctor snip-snips away Jordan’s manhood, the speechwriter clings ever tighter to his pipe dream of a future. The implausibility of his plan is immediately apparent to us, but Jordan remains oblivious, right up until the moment he steps outside of the doctor’s office and is roped and stuffed into the back of a van. His kidnappers are vengeful IT nerds. They’ve hacked all of his accounts. They know about his IM flirtations with a co-worker. They know how he “anonymously” gave malicious information about his boss to a journalist. They know how he abused photocopier privileges for private use. In short, they know enough to nail his ass to the wall, wreck his marriage, and get him fired without his stocks option — unless he does as they say. All he has to do is accompany his boss to Florida, and covertly record his actions for the IT squad and they’ll let Dan Jordan walk away clean.
If only it were that simple.
Robert Burns unknowingly crafted a proto-noir mantra when he wrote his famous words, “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry …” Expectedly, that’s what happens in Cash Out. In the tradition of Day Keene’s Too Hot to Hold, Bardlsey has created a character so naïve to his own dark side that he doesn’t even realize what a low-down, sleazy, corrupt scumbag he really is. Just as middle-class businessman Jim Brady in Too H...read more