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Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson Paperback – October 1, 1996

12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jim Thompson was one of the greatest crime novelists ever, leaving behind a legacy of hard-boiled classics like The Grifters and The Getaway. Robert Polito has written the definitive biography of this brilliant American original. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A series of Vintage reprints and Hollywood films like The Getaway and The Grifters have helped develop a wider popular and critical following for crime author Jim Thompson (1906-1977) than he sustained while alive. More twisted, sadistic and nihilistic than Chandler or Caine, Thompson's trademarks were his fiendish first-person psychopaths and lowlifes and his grim tales of failed lives and thwarted crimes. Polito, director of the writing program at Manhattan's New School, here untangles the man from his two-volume autobiography (Bad Boy and Roughneck), revealing a maverick alcoholic who was dogged by spells of depression and missed opportunities throughout his hand-to-mouth career. The son of a corrupt Oklahoma sheriff who lost his money speculating in oil, Thompson had his first alcohol-induced nervous breakdown as a hotel busboy in Ft. Worth while still in high school. He oscillated between low-wage jobs, hack journalism and literary circles for the rest of his life; joined the Communist Party in 1936; briefly became director of the Oklahoma Writer's Project; and struggled to publish novels that were often either too dark or slapdash for the mainstream. He enjoyed his most prolific period under editor Arnold Halo at Lion Books in the 1950s, eventually landing in Hollywood as a part-time film and television writer. This meticulous study adroitly evokes the rise of pulp adventure and crime magazines like Saga and True Detective, where Thompson honed his style, and the seedy underworld of hoboes and grifters who formed the models for his "savage art." Photos.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679733523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679733522
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #819,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. Malon on November 29, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Meticiously researched and winning awards, this biography of the writer is ultimatly over-written, and too often, is boring.

The author attemps to draw similarities betweein Thompson's life and thought processes by inclunding passages from his works which becomew boring in the extreme. This will prove especially irritating to all but the individual who has read the majority of Thompson novels and short stories. The author constantly divulges every aspect of Thompson's works, down to the smallest detail. New readers of Thompson will likely feel they've already read Thompson's entire output.

This is a valid biographical tool but the author relies on it too much. The rememerances of family, associates, friends, and others who knew Thompson are also carried to the extreme. It seems every two or three paragraphs is followed by a 'rememberance' or section of Thompson's work. I probably skipped half the book due to this irrirating habit of the author trying to analyze Thompson
through these devices.

The hard facts of Thompson's life are fascinating, however, and I
found myself wondering how with all his hangups, family problems,
heavy drinking, and such how Thompson managed to live as long as he did. Thompson was a troubled individual his entire life and it
is obvious he poured much of his fears and frustrations into his incredible works.

I can recommend this book to the devoted Thompson fan since it does detail his life nicely but be aware that even the most hardened fan will find it hard going.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on June 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
I didn't think it was possible to write a full-scale biography of Thompson because of his scattered, secret life. But Polito has pulled off the seemingly impossible. He gathers together unexpected facts from obscure sources in places all over the country. He combines this with excellent, insightful analysis of this tortured writer's work. When I first read Thompson's novels back in the mid-'80's, it felt like my brain was being turned inside out. I was so astonished I went out and bought every one. Now thanks to Polito we can begin to understand the sources of the horror and the humanity of his novels.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael G. VINE VOICE on November 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
Savage Art is a truly remarkable work of scholarship. In it, Robert Polito meticulously separates out fact from the considerable amount of mythology that surrounds Jim Thompson's life.
Since so much of what Thompson wrote is autobiographical in origin, a knowledge of Thompson's very unusual life history helps the reader better appreciate his work. So it is not at all hard to argue that this is not only a well written and fascinating biography, it is an important one as well.
Polito explains, in exacting detail, how Thompson's life and consequently his writing was influenced by the interpersonal and societal forces he encountered as he matured.
To put it another way. Jim Thompson's worldview was shaped, nurtured and, some would say, warped by his life experiences.
He then took this unique worldview and used it to interpret the self same experiences which formed it. The result is Thompson's very significant contribution to 20th century American fiction. Dark, disturbing books inhabited by sad, desperate characters trapped in hideous circumstances. These are novels that boldly explore areas that would otherwise be unexplorable.
Savage Art is very much a monumental achievement. Essential reading for Jim Thompson fans.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By stoic VINE VOICE on June 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
Jim Thompson was largely forgotten when he died in 1977. The years since his death have brought about a new appreciation for his work. Robert Polito tells readers Thompson's life story in Savage Art. Amazingly, Thompson's life story might be even better than any of the stories that he told in his books.

Polito has done a masterful job of research and he illuminates Thompson's fascinating, tragic life. Thompson's best books are rooted in his unsatisfying relationship with his father, a small-town sheriff who made - and lost - several fortunes while his son was young. Partly as a result of his father's problems, Jim Thompson worked in an incredible range of jobs (bellboy, oil-field worker, door-to-door salesmen, journalist, etc.) and traveled all over the United States. Polito helps his readers understand how Thompson's background influenced his work.

For all of Thompson's skill as a writer, he was a bitterly-unhappy alcoholic who spent his life in poverty. Savage uncovers Thompson's horrible decisions and wasted opportunities in a narrative that both fascinates and repels. The string of catastrophes recounted in Savage Art will make many readers cringe.

While Savage Art is very readable, I have a few quibbles about it. The book (at 508 pages) should be about 100 pages shorter. Polito goes off on too many tangents for my taste. He chose to include the entire text from scores of letters written by Thompson and to Thompson. Polito also goes into excruciating detail about Thompson's mother's and father's family backgrounds. A good editor would have helped Polito trim some fat from Savage Art.

I first read Savage Art in the mid-1990s and I thought that it was great.
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