The Obscure Novels Vault

Pretty Boy, by William Cunningham.  New York, The Vanguard Press, 1936. 
This undeservedly obscure (and extremely scarce) novel was inspired by the career of legendary Oklahoma country gangster Arthur "Pretty Boy" Floyd. A fine piece of mid-Depression literature, and an almost-unique fusion of crime/gangster novel with an agrarian/proletarian sensibility, the book holds up terrifically on its own merits, and assumes even greater stature when one considers its influence (in my opinion, anyway) on hard-boiled literary icon Jim Thompson. The personal association between Cunningham and Thompson is well-known -- they were colleagues for several years in the Oklahoma WPA Writers Project (Thompson actually succeeded Cunningham as head of the project in 1938) -- yet Thompson's biographers, including the excellent Robert Polito, have paid virtually no attention to Cunningham's actual writings, and have thus neglected to even explore the question of literary influence.  (The very distinct stylistic and thematic connections between Pretty Boy and Thompson's The Getaway would be one of the most obvious starting points.)  Cunningham, in fact, is barely on the literary map at all: his 1935 book The Green Corn Rebellion earned him a passing mention in Walter Rideout's oft-referenced study The Radical Novel in the United States, but that's about it.  (And Rideout dismisses Pretty Boy as little more than "an attempt to present the life of the terms of the economic conditions that forced him to act outside the laws of capitalist society" -- an absurdly pedantic reading of the book.)  Pretty Boy, in my opinion, is easily the equal of most contemporaneous works in a similar vein (Edward Anderson's Thieves Like Us being the most obvious), and it's an absolute crime that it's been out of print for almost 70 years! 

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