Prowling the grimy streets of San Francisco, low-life Helen is a beautiful, sensuous drunk - and a pathetically easy pick-up. That is until she meets Harry, who buys her a coffee and takes her home with him. Harry just wants to help, but before long he and Helen are both adrift in a sea of alcohol - until Harry conceives the ultimate crime ......
Another re-read from long ago, sometime early 90s maybe, but certainly long enough that elements of it pricked at my consciousness without total recall spoiling the surprise element of the tale.
Alcoholic man meets alcoholic woman and almost immediately you get a sense that it isn't going to end well. Harry on his own is functional and managing his drinking. Work, drink, work, drink, run up a tab, get an advance on wages, drink more, get paid, clear tab, drink more, work, repeat ad nauseum.
Harry has failed periodically throughout his life.... as an artist, with the army, as a husband, as a father, as a teacher and here again he fails. Helen's issues and history aren't explored to the same degree...... a failed marriage, a difficult relationship with her disapproving mother and a flight to the city of San Francisco.
As a couple, at least there's some solace in not drinking alone. There are brief attempts, driven by Harry to seek help for their drinking - treatment sought and a drying out period of forced abstinence. There's an effort to establish a routine of a work life and regular domesticity, but Helen lacks the strength to persist and soon Harry is dragged back down to the gutter. One way out of their mutual misery beckons.
A dark book, a bit of a character study of lives ruined by addiction, assisted by a weakness of character. It's interspersed by the small tolerances and kindnesses shown to them throughout the book.... by their landlady, Mick the bar owner, and to Harry by his jailers later on in the book. Willeford's surprise twist two lines from the end of the book, does give you pause to reflect and reconsider everything - absolutely everything you've read before.
Not my favourite Willeford book - the Hoke Moseley series he started 30 years after this one are - but it comes close.
4.5 from 5
Read - April, 2019
Published - 1954
Page count - 196
Source - owned copy
Format - hardback omnibus edition*