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When a Psychopath Falls in Love Paperback – February 11, 2015
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About the Author
Herbert Gold was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1924 and grew up in the suburb of Lakewood. After several of his poems were accepted by literary magazines, he moved to New York at age seventeen and studied philosophy at Columbia University. While there, he befriended many Beat Generation writers, including Anaïs Nin and Allen Ginsberg.
Gold won a Fulbright fellowship and moved to Paris, where he did graduate studies at the Sorbonne and worked on his first novel, Birth of a Hero, published in 1951. Since then Gold has written more than thirty books and received several awards, including the Sherwood Anderson Award for Fiction, the Commonwealth Club Gold Medal and the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award. He has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley and at Stanford, Cornell and Harvard.
Since 1960 he has lived in San Francisco. When a Psychopath Falls in Love is his twentieth novel.
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What turns the pages to the end are the memorable, mostly well-meaning—sweet at times—people Gold has imagined in and around San Francisco’s Hall of Justice. Even Ferd, the scheming lawyer, has an endearing neediness. Will he survive? Will Dan’s good-guy moral sense—challenged at the start by his diagnosis of prostate cancer and his desire to leave something for his newly discovered daughter and severely disabled grandbaby—prevail in the brutal environs of San Francisco’s Tenderloin and South of Market districts?
As it happens, this reviewer knows these areas well, often passing the Hall of Justice, where I’ve just been summoned to appear for jury duty. I’ve even met a non-fictional character in Gold’s novel, the very real Jerry Barrish, noted bail bondsman and metal sculptor.
More than that, is Gold's rich facility for drawing readers into the chronically damp atmosphere and hazy personalities in this cool gray city of demented souls. There’s Amanda, the daughter, whose ’60s era mother hadn’t wanted to tell Dan the girl existed. Amanda with her developmentally disabled infant brings new meaning to the loner granddad’s life. There’s Harvey, the taciturn homicide detective, and Petal, the hooker, who wants to set things right. And the knife that must be held low to inflict maximum harm.
The ending is deeply disturbing; my my glib journalistic self might call it "No Country of Everyman." The unanswered questions around the sickening denouement are exactly what sustains and raises so many more about the seething undercurrent of deception and violence I sense on the No. 19 bus, passing by that forbidding gray block about which Lenny Bruce once said, “The only justice in the Hall of Justice is the justice you’ll find in the hall.”
I love the salt air of San Francisco, the same tubercular air that lodge too deeply into Dashiell Hammett’s lungs on Pinkerton stakeouts 90 years ago. But it does come with it's own, charmless, nervous stink that Gold captured well. I wasn't sure how I felt after finishing that final messy finish of the book, except unnerved. Still, there's no denying that I've continued seeing the world around me more sharply framed, not just for the pain that laughs out loud throughout this Central City, but also how it builds pressure inside good people until some exit in a nasty flourish.
I’d mentioned to friends that the book was released this spring coinciding with Gold’s 91st birthday. It’s his 20th novel and 32nd book. One friend surprised me by asking whether Gold, you know, “still has it.” Oh, yes. Just read “When a Psychopath Falls in Love” for a genuine and sustaining introduction to the gritty heart of San Francisco. I didn’t criticize my friend for this whiff of ageism, but Gold’s case, age—his mature vision about murky human motivations—is clearly an asset.