Thursday, 8 November 2012

They Don't Dance Much by James Ross (1940)

Harrap's 1986 UK edition of
James Ross's
They Don't Dance Much (1940)
(Cover design not credited)
The story is set in a North Carolina backwoods town, in the Depression years, and as the story opens, the narrator Jack  Macdonald,  has just lost  his  farm  through non-payment of taxes. 

James Ross (1911-1990)
Said by William Gay to be
“the man who invented Southern noir.” 
Jack spends a lot of his time hanging around the garage and roadside store run by his friend Smuts Milligan.  Smuts has some big plans for the store, and soon Jack is working for him as Smuts expands his business into a roadside diner and dance hall.

But business turns out not to be as good as Smuts had hoped and soon he's looking for alternative sources of income.  The novel's curious idyllic backwoods charm is interrupted by a harrowing   torture and murder as Smuts tries to learn the secret of an old recluse's hoard.

It’s a novel of rare brilliance. Raymond Chandler described it as “a sleazy, corrupt but completely believable story of a North Carolina town.”

       Signet #913, abridged
           edition, April 1952

When Daniel Woodrell reviewed Joe R Lansdale’s  Mucho Mojo  (1994) in The New York Times, he cited as Lansdale’s predecessors James M. Cain, Erskine Caldwell and Jim Thompson, but went on to say:  “James Ross is scarcely ever mentioned, though his one novel, They Don’t Dance Much (1940), might be the finest of the lot.”
And in that last sentence lies the rub. James Ross only wrote one novel. Which somehow makes it all the more important that you read it.

The photograph of James Ross shown here was found as part of the fascinating essay My Search for James Ross, One-Hit Wonder, by Anthony Hatcher, who obtained the photo at Elon University, North Carolina. I recommend the essay to any who wish a more detailed account of this novel and its author.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! I am writing from Open Road Media with the news that Road Media will be re-publishing They Don't Dance Much in both print and electronic formats in April 2013, with a new introduction.

    If you're interested in re-reading and reviewing the novel closer to the publication date, I would be happy to share a digital copy.

    We are thrilled to give They Don't Dance Much another chance at reaching the audience it deserves. For more information, you can email me at epulitzer (at) gmail (dot) com.

    - Emma, Open Road Integrated Media