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First published as an unheralded paperback original, Pick-Up is an authentic underground classic, an explosive bulletin from the urban underbelly of mid-1950s America. It was Charles Willeford’s second novel, after a rough and wandering earlier life that had taken him from Depression-era hobo camps and soup kitchens to wartime battlefields. The unblinking story of two lost and self-destructive drifters—a failed painter working as a counterman in a cheap diner and a woman in flight from domestic violence—trying to find a place for themselves in the back streets of San Francisco, Pick-Up is hardboiled writing at its nihilistic best: Willeford’s preferred title for the book was Until I Am Dead. Its bleak vision of life beyond the edge is haunted by rape, racism, alcoholism, suicide, and inescapable poverty, yet shot through with a tenderness and compassion sustained against all odds in a society offering few breaks to its outcasts and misfits. Pick-Up’s many twists and violent turns culminate in an ending that continues to surprise, confirming it as what critic Woody Haut has called “a razor-sharp narrative that rips open the genre.”
About the Author
Charles Willeford (1919-1988) varied life included stints riding the rails in the midst of the Great Depression, serving as a tank commander in World War II, and working as a professional horse trainer, boxer, radio announcer, and painter. The author of twenty novels, he created the Miami detective series featuring Hoke Moseley, which includes Miami Blues, Sideswipe, The Way We Die Now, and New Hope for the Dead.