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Nobody Move: We're back ...

July 29, 2008 |  2:13 pm

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Last month, Jacket Copy opened an ongoing conversation about Denis Johnson's noir serial "Nobody Move," which is being published in four parts in Playboy. Part 2 has just hit the stands, and now we pick up where we left off. ...

Toward the end of our initial discussion of "Nobody Move," Richard Rayner noted that the real challenge of the project would not be in the first installment but in the second. The opening section was all about the setup. Part 2 would be where we would see whether Johnson's serial had legs.

Rayner's right, of course, as anyone who's seen this season's premiere of "Mad Men" can attest. And Part 2 of "Nobody Move" really delivers — moving the story along, offering a number of classically weird Johnson moments and, most important, having a lot of fun with the conventions of the genre, the hard-boiled talk and attitude of noir.

Johnson opens Part 2 the morning after Part 1 ends, in the Log Inn Motel, where Jimmy Luntz has just slept with Anita Desilvera, a woman so out of his league that he has to keep looking at her to make sure she is real. There's a brief encounter with the cops, which Anita defuses through sheer animal lust: "At that moment," Johnson writes, "Anita came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel, her black hair slicked back, and flashed a smile that would have blown the doors off Jesus Christ."

"Blown the doors off Jesus Christ"? How's that for hard-boiled? It doesn't even matter that Johnson's image makes no sense — last time I looked, Jesus didn't have any doors.

Here we have the beauty of "Nobody Move." Part 2 is a joy ride, a careening road story, as Jimmy and Anita drive up and down the length of California, hiding out with various loser associates, plotting their own big scores. For both of them, their association is a source of mystery: When Jimmy says, "I had a good time last night," Anita replies, "It was kind of a fluke." And yet, they stick together, compelled by something more than circumstance, by some small spark of electricity, by the compulsion, the sense of looking past one's own best interests, that has long been at the heart of noir.

There's more to discuss about all this, but I'm going to leave that for the group conversation, which, as it did last month, will feature Carolyn Kellogg, Richard Rayner and Susan Straight. This time, we're adding one more voice to the mix — that of novelist Tod Goldberg, who knows a little something about noir and how it works.

Before I sign off, though, I do want to comment on Johnson's dialogue, with which I had problems during the first go-round. Here, he's straightened it out completely, writing conversations that almost seem to blister up off the page.

At one point, Anita and Jimmy are in a car, talking about the $2.3 million she's embezzled and how she's going to try to get it back. She's cut a deal to avoid jail time,  or else she'd be going away for six years. "Kind of a long time to wait to spend your two million," Jimmy tells her, and then there is this exchange:

    "Have you lost count already? Two point three."
    "What's a point or three among friends?"
    "I haven't got any friends. And I haven't got the money, I just know who has it and how to get it."
    No comment from Mr. Jimmy.
    "Doesn't that interest you?"
    "You're interesting every way there is."

Now, that's dialogue. Talk about blowing the doors off Jesus Christ.

David L. Ulin

Photo by Richard Kuhne via Flickr

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