Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Short Stuff - Damon Runyon

I am very very tired, so instead of an extensive post I'm going to give you an excerpt of a short story I read.

It's a Damon Runyon story, and that means it's out of print and not available for Kindle -- but there are used copies of his books around, and I read it in a paperback called The Best of Damon Runyon.

Runyon was great with the twists and punchlines and ironies in his short fiction -- but he's more famous for the fact that he was, like P. G. Wodehouse, a master of voice. His characters -- all small time hoods and crooks and gamblers along Broadway in New York -- spoke with his distinctive, slightly elaborate yet slang-filled patois.

The story I was reading today was "The Snatching of Bookie Bob," which begins like this:

Now it comes on the spring of 1931, after a long hard winter, and times are very tough indeed, what with the stock market going all to pieces, and banks busting right and left, and the law getting very nasty about this and that, and one thing and another, and many citizens of this town are compelled to do the best they can.

There is very little scratch to be had anywhere and along Broadway many citizens are wearing their last year's clothes and have practically nothing to bet on the races or anything else, and it is a condition that will touch anyone's heart.

So I am not surprised to hear rumors of the snatching of certain parties going on in spots, because while snatching is by no means a high-class business, and is even considered somewhat illegal, it is something to tide over the hard times....

And thus begins the story of the snatching of one Bookie Bob, and how it goes not like Harry the Horse thought it would.

And for those who are impatient (and also want something free...) here is a clip from Guys And Dolls which not only has the style and voice, but also a touch of the Runyon sort of twist:

Guys and Dolls was based on a number of Damon Runyon short stories, and the original play was to be awarded a Pulitzer, but because the writer who did the adaptation was on McCarthy's blacklist, they decided not to award a Pulitzer for drama that year rather than give it to a possible Pinko. (So don't ever let it be said that the Blacklist only affected talentless hacks.)

If you like old movies, you might also check out "Lady For A Day" from 1933 (it was remade in the fifties as "Pocket Full of Miracles" with Bette Davis, too).

See you in the funny papers.


Paul D Brazill said...

Good call. Love Runyon.

The Daring Novelist said...

Runyon, imho, is one of the examples of how a short story can be as appealing as a novel.