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Pop. 1280
by Jim Thompson. Fiction, 1964 (Gold Medal)/1990 Reissue (Vintage Crime). 217 Pages. Well, sir, I just re-read this Ďun, and even though it ainít new, I figured I just had to let you know about it.  Pop. 1280 and its protagonist, Sheriff Nick Corey, are among the best books and most favorite characters Iíve ever read.  Itís the darkly hilarious, savagely painful, twisted-as-fuck tale of one manís psychotic journey into self-absorption and murder, and I love it.  
     Corey is the sheriff of tiny Potts County in the Texas of the early 1900s. Heís diabolically clever but comes across to most folks as a monumentally lazy, spineless fool, and thatís just how he likes it.  From the outset heís in quite a gol-dern fix (pretty much of his own making, of course!).  Stuck in a contentious sham of a marriage with the very unpleasant Myra, Corey also has to deal with her live-in ďbrotherĒ Lennie, a semi-retarded, conniving Peeping Tom, and this makes olí Nick purdy uncomfortable in his own home.  To complicate things, Coreyís having an adulterous relationship with Myraís supposed best friend Rose, an unhappily married little hellcat herself.  And then thereís Nickís ex-fiancťe Amy, who he blew it with and would like nothing more than to change that sad reality.  Complicating this scenario is the unfortunate fact that Amyís got the serious goods on him after witnessing him doing something awful naughty, and this sure is a heck of a hurdle for poor Nick in this endeavor.
     Despite these complicated shenanigans, Nick still finds plenty of time to subtly manipulate the hell out of all kinds of people, usually with pretty disastrous results for those that happen to cross his path.  Sometimes, like when he craftily and, well, evilly takes care of Roseís no-good, abusive husband Tom, itís fun to watch.  And throughout Pop.1280, Nickís exploitation of the hypocrisy of the Potts County population produces several laugh-out-loud moments.  But other times he hurts people completely undeserving of his wrath, and thatís definitely not so fun to see.  At one point, explaining a particular bout of terrible nastiness, Corey says, ďWhat I loved was myself, and I was willing to do anything I god-dang had to to go on lying and cheating and drinking whiskey and screwing women and going to church on Sunday with all the other respectable people.Ē  Itís this brutal self-knowledge without a hint of shame in the knowing that makes Nick Corey such a fucked up force of nature.  And since some have theorized that Coreyís character is loosely based on Jim Thompsonís own father, it makes this statement that much more profound.  
     As much as Nick Corey does such blatantly bad things, heís also surprisingly liberal in his views on race relations.  Itís an aspect of his personality that makes him so likeable at times, but then he turns around and does something undeniably terrible, and you just canít root for him the way you usually do for most storiesí main characters.  In fact, right up to the end, when he suddenly espouses a bizarre Biblical vengeance rationale for his behavior, Coreyís as perplexing a character as Iíve ever seen. Itís also what makes me love this book so much. 
     A French film called Coup de Torchon was based on this story, but Pop. 1280 needs to be done right by American moviemakers, and it definitely has to take place in Texas.  You may be surprised by whom Iíd pick to play Sheriff Nick Corey, but I think Matthew McConaughey would absolutely kick ass in this role.  Take the charismatic lawman he played in Lone Star, combine that with the hilarious sleazoid he played in Dazed and Confused, add in the fact that heís probably hungry for something unusual since he hasnít done a helluva lot of note lately and you have the makings for something pretty special.  Iíve already got half the soundtrack for this sucka thought up (heavy emphasis on some Reverend Horton Heat instrumentals and a few Johnny Cash numbers from his most badass days), so if you know Mr. McConaughey, please send him this book and tell the muthafucka to get his ass in gear and do something with this already. ĖBen Hunter

 

 

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