This book is like a more depressing version of David Goodis’s Cassidy’s Girl. Which is not to disparage Pick-Up. I think it’s the better novel.
It doesn’t get more grim than this though. As in Cassidy’s Girl (and most of Goodis’s work for that matter), Pick-Up is the story of alcoholics living on the margins of society. I’m writing these reviews out-of-order and the last one I wrote was actually for George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. In that review I mentioned that Orwell never gives you the impression that he is slumming or exploiting the people he writes about and the same can be said for Goodis and Willeford.
Indeed, both Goodis and Willeford are exploring universal themes regarding suffering, doubt and self-destructive choices. This fact is driven home by the last line of Willeford’s Pick-Up which contains a fairly major twist that I am only now wrapping my mind around.
In Pick-Up, two alcoholics meet and fall into a spiral of self-destruction. The book has a brutal realism to it and the stark prose leaves you with nowhere to run to escape that brutality. Much as I enjoyed this book, I have to say it’s one of the most depressing books I’ve read in a long time. And this, right on the heels of The World Without Us, which I also found depressing. After finishing Pick-Up, I went out to the bookstore with the express purpose of picking out something less grim. After failing to find any of the books I was looking for, I ended up buying a used copy of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. At the time I thought this was an epic failure on my part but, honestly, No Country For Old Men was a breath of fresh air after Pick-Up.