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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Down There

cover image By: Goodis, David (male)
Publisher: Fawcett Publications, Inc. (Gold Medal Books 623)
Place of Publication: Greenwich, Connecticut
Catalog #: Kelley Box 259: PS3513 .O499 D68 1956
Contributor: C. List

General

Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: David Goodis Geographic Locale: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Date of Publication: 1956  |  Original Date: 1956 Setting: urban; Port Richmond section of Philadelphia -- docks area Motives: murder Alternate Title: Shoot the Piano Player

Plot Summary

Eddie is the piano player in Harriet's Hut, a working class bar, and he helps his brother, Turley, escape from gangsters Feather and Morris. Eddie knows only that he's been pulled unwillingly into Turley's latest situation. Once, Eddie had been concert pianist Edward Webster Lynn, but he abandoned that life and all feeling after the suicide of his wife. The barmaid, Lena, reawakens feelings in him when she helps him evade Feather and Morris. Wally Plyne (a.k.a. the Harleyville Hugger), a former wrestler who's now the bouncer at the Hut, sells Eddie's address to Feather and Morris, forcing Eddie and Lena to escape from them once more. Eddie and Lena return to the bar where they confront Wally. When Wally begins to beat Lena, Eddie intervenes and a savage fight ensues. It culminates in Eddie's stabbing Wally to death to escape being crushed by "the Hugger." Lena takes Eddie to his family's home which his brothers have turned into a hideout. Feather and Morris follow her there and she is killed in the unavoidable gun battle. Clifton and Turley escape with Feather and Morris in pursuit, and Eddie returns to his job as a small-time piano player and a life that is once again devoid of emotion.


Major Characters

Feather adult male, short, very thin, "[member] of a certain unchartered and unlicensed corporation....dealing in contraband"

Morris adult male, tall, thin, occupation is the same as that of Feather; gun specialist

Wally Plyne aka the Harleyville Hugger, adult male, 43 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 220 pounds, balding, cauliflower ear, broken nose, bridgework, bad scar from chin to collarbone, bouncer at Harriet's Hut

Lena adult female, 20s, 5 feet 6 inches in heels, brunette, slin, high-waisted, waitress at Harriet's Hut

Eddie formerly Edward Webster Lynn, adult male, pleasant face, gray eyes, light-brown hair, soft mouth, piano player at Harriet's Hut, formerly a concert pianist
*



Weapons

guns, fists, knife


Level of Violence

Eddie spent several years that included very violent behavior after his wife committed suicide. Some of the fights from that period are described rather obliquely. The blows Wally delivers to Lena are clearly depicted, and the fight between Eddie and Wally is recounted blow by blow. The damage done to Eddie by the Hugger is graphically described. The gunfight is fully described and Lena's death is detailed tersely: "There were two bullet holes in her forehead."


Sexuality

sexuality plays a sizable part in the novel: Eddie's wife, Teresa, was unable to forgive herself for her adultery, forced though it was. Her sexual activities are not explicitly described. Neither are the actions of a minor character, Clarice, a former gymnast turned prostitute who frequents Harriet's Hut and lives in Eddie's building. Clarice and Eddie have had sex; it's referred to, but not described graphically.


Gender Roles

Lena is somewhat stereotypically female -- a pretty barmaid/waitress. She is tougher than her looks imply, however, as evidenced in the scene when the Hugger repeatedly slaps her. Eddie's physical description is not stereotypically masculine, but his brawling behavior after his wife's suicide is a fairly typical macho reaction. The bar is owned by a female, but her description allows her to fit that traditionally male role.


Ethnicity

none evident


Alcohol/Drug Abuse

there is little emphasis on this aspect. Eddie uses alcohol to excess in the period after his wife's suicide, and his brothers abuse it. Patrons of Harriet's Hut are described in some states of inebriation.


Law Enforcement

cops are made to look inept during Eddie and Lena's escape from Feather and Morris. They are not mentioned in the descriptions of criminal activities (Turley's theft, the shootout, etc.), but are painted as humane in the final actions taken by Eddie -- describing Lena's death and the shootout.


Subject Headings

Pennsylvania - Philadelphia/ Murder/ Pianists


Psychological Elements

there are strong psychological overtones to much of this work. Eddie's faraway stare when he plays the piano clearly describes his escape into his music, or the non-music he plays in the bar after his concert career has ended. He makes connections with no one, not even Clarice, although they have sex occasionally and she is obviously interested in him. Lena functions almost as a therapist in bringing him to the point of trusting another human. The Hugger's primitive take on the world makes him a comfortable victim and gives the reader a false sense that good and bad will be clearly and easily delineated in the story. The death of Lena destroys that sense, and the ending, with Eddie again retreating into his own world, makes the story feel as though it ended with an ellipsis.


Film Adaptations

Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le Pianiste), 1960, Cocinor