It wasn’t until I saw Arthur Penn’s 1975 neo-noir Night Moves again the other evening that I realised the large debt owed to it by my fifth Resnick novel, Wasted Years. Not for the main plot line, which involves Resnick and a former blues singer, Ruth Strange, but for those sections of the book which deal with the splintering of Resnick’s relationship with his wife, Elaine.
In the movie, private detective Harry Moseby, played by Gene Hackman with a resigned and barely suppressed anger, discovers that his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) is having an affair [he goes to pick her up at the cinema where she’s been seeing a Rohmer movie – grounds for separation right there? – and finds her amorously engaged with an arty type who walks with the aid of a stick] and deals with it as most men tend to do – badly. Instead of confronting her, his initial response is to hide away at the top of the house brooding over a ball game he’s watching on a flickering black and white TV, effectively breaking off all conversation between them; his second is to confront the man in his home. It is this that brings about the climactic row between them, Harry releasing his violence by smashing a glass into the sink and switching on the disposal.
Alan Sharp’s fine script is at its best in these scenes. “Who’s winning?” Ellen asks when she interrupts Harry’s solitary viewing. “Nobody,” comes the answer. “One side’s just losing slower than the other.” And there’s Harry’s now famous retort when Ellen asks him if he wants to accompany her to the Rohmer movie – “I saw a Rohmer film once, it was sort of like watching paint dry.”
[In the novel – with the blurb suggests came before the movie, but I suspect came later, a novelisation of sorts – it’s not a Rohmer movie that gets this dismissive treatment, but Chabrol, and a particular Chabrol movie, at that, Le Boucher – not exactly a paint-drier as I remember it.]
The sequence of events in Wasted Years is very similar to those in the movie. [Homage, we used to call it, back in the days when Lawrence, Angus and myself would ‘borrow’ sections from our favourite westerns and refashion them for the latest adventure of Hawk or Herne the Hunter.] Resnick discovers Elaine’s infidelity accidentally – he’s on his way back to the police station when he sees her leaving an empty house with a man.
He was humming one of those Parker tunes with an unpronounceable name, beating his fingers against the wheel, when he saw a woman walking out of a house a little off to the right. The house was quite substantial, thirties probably, set back from the road; the woman, wearing a blue suit, smart, turned her head to look back at the man who was now locking the front door and she was smiling. It was Elaine.
… Graceful turn of the head and slow. A smile he had seen before. Beside the front garden shrubs, the low stone wall, a sign which read FOR SALE. The man at the front door, pocketing the keys. Volvo parked at the kerb, dark blue. It had been a long time now since he had seen that smile.
Instead of watching American football on TV, Resnick goes to watch Notts County reserves …
He stood on the County Road side, near the halfway line. Rain began to fall in swathes, darkening his coat, seeping through to his shoulders. On the pitch a bunch of youngsters and the odd gnarled professional hoofed the ball out of defence in the hopeful direction of their opponent’s goal. Tackles slid fast across the greasy turf and, with so few people in the ground, you could hear, all too clearly, the crack of bone meeting bone.
Instead of bracing the man in his house, Resnick goes to his office instead; a visit which precipitates the final exchanges between himself and Elaine …
Resnick leaned away from the door. “I should’ve thought if there was any guilt around …”
“I should have the monopoly?”
“You were the one sneaking off in her lunch hour.”
“Making love to another man.”
The bottle that she’d opened was close to where she was standing and she poured herself another glass of wine. The bottle was nearly empty. “We weren’t making love, Charlie, Philip and I. What we were doing was fucking. There’s a big difference.” Slowly, she carried the glass of wine towards him. “What you and I do – used to do – that was making love. Tender, Charlie. Careful. Solicitous. What we do, myself and Philip, other people’s beds, we fuck!”
He swung his arm and she saw it coming, trying to block him and not quite succeeding, the heel of his hand catching her at the front of the left temple, alongside the eye. The glass she had been holding shattered against the floor. Elaine stumbled backwards, the worktop saving her from falling.
Resnick moved towards her, arms outstretched, apologising; instead of flinching, she lifted her face towards him, daring him to strike her again. Resnick wrenched the back door open and slammed it behind him, unable to see where he was running, half-blinded by tears of shame and anger in his eyes.
I’d completely forgotten, until I looked at the book again, that Resnick had struck her.