Home > Uncategorized > Landscapes in Heed the Thunder by Jim Thompson

Landscapes in Heed the Thunder by Jim Thompson

I’ve just finished Heed the Thunder by Jim Thompson and I will write a billet about the book later. I already know that I won’t have anywhere to include Thompson’s descriptions of landscapes and seasons in this billet. So, here are three quotes, just for the pleasure of sharing a good piece of literature and a few thoughts about these descriptions.

Here’s the opening paragraph of the book, as we arrive to Verdon, Nebraska along with Mrs Dillon, one of the characters of the novel:

It was five o’clock when the train stopped at Verdon, and the town and the valley still lay under the gray dark of pre-dawn. Along the crest of the sand-hills, a few snaky fingers of sunligt had edged down through the hayflats, dipping shiveringly into the icy Calamus, darting back through driftfence, scurrying past soddy and dugout; but the rich valley rested undisturbed, darkly, luxuriously. Like some benevolent giant resting until the last possible moment for the day’s prodigious labors, it clung to the darkness; and the dimmed light of the train stood back against the night, satisfied with their own dominion. The long station platform was a brown field of plank, harrowed with age and drought and rain.

Time goes by and winter comes:

Winter fell like a harlot upon the valley. One day there was only the musky odor of her, the rustle of her skirts; the next, she lay sprawled across the land in all her white and undulant opulence, and the valley groaned and shivered uxoriously.

When I read this, I couldn’t help thinking about this painting by Alexandre Hogue, even if Thompson evokes a snowy landscape and Hogue is more about showing a bare land during the Great Depression:

Erosion n2 Mother Earth Laid Bare by Alexander Hogue. 1936

Erosion n2 Mother Earth Laid Bare by Alexander Hogue. 1936

Thompson continues in the same fashion a few chapters later, when spring comes:

Spring slipped like a virgin into the bed of the valley. Now cloying, now rebellious, she struggled and wept against the brown giant. She touched him with fearful fingers that lingered more and more with each touching; she stroked him, brazenly. She gasped, then panted against him, and at last she sighed and her breath came warm and even. And the harlot winter slunk from the couch, jeering.

It is a very sensuous way of imagining the passing of seasons and of picturing the land embracing a new lover every three months. What I find fascinating is that for me the genders are all wrong. Winter and spring are both masculine names in French while valley is feminine. I have a hard time picturing winter and spring as women and the valley as a man. I just wonder: do the genders used for these personnification come from Thompson’s writing or are they commonly used? Out of curiosity, how do you pick genders for personnifications in English?

PS: I checked on Wikipedia, Verdon really exists. I wonder if it was founded by French or French Canadian settlers, because for me, the Verdon is a river in Provence, famous for its splendid gorges.

  1. March 5, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Oh, I remember that beautiful landscape of the gorges of Verdon – magnifique! Such poetic descriptions and personifications – I don’t think they are very common any more in English language literature. It feels more like 19th century or early 20th century to me.

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    • March 5, 2017 at 10:24 pm

      I loved these descriptions. There’s so much more to Thompson than “just” crime.

      Like

  2. March 5, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    I have four plaster depictions of the seasons. They are probably copies of something famous. Anyway Spring is depicted as female and Winter is an elderly man. I’ve never thought of a valley in either sex, to be honest.

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    • March 5, 2017 at 10:23 pm

      Since words have a gender in French, they somehow have a underlying “sex”.
      So there’s no rule, in English? The artist can come with the personification they want.

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      • March 5, 2017 at 11:17 pm

        Well that’s one of the benefits of French. You get the gender. I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule, but I could be wrong.

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        • March 5, 2017 at 11:43 pm

          In a sense, there’s more freedom for the artist, then.

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          • March 6, 2017 at 6:59 am

            Yes I suppose but that can go wrong at times too.

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  3. March 5, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    I saw that painting up close and personal this week at the America After the Fall exhibition at the Royal Academy. What. Great show – I loved the selection of paintings especially those by Grant Wood and Edward Hopper.

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    • March 5, 2017 at 10:20 pm

      I’m glad you could see this exhibition. I saw it in Paris and loved it. Stunning paintings and very interesting information about artists during the New Deal area.

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  4. March 5, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing such beautiful pieces of writing, Emma! Sometimes it’s good just to revel in some really good prose. “Darting back through driftfence, scurrying past soddy and dugout”—love it! 🙂 I agree on the genders—I can see Spring as a young woman, but it’s hard to see her slipping into the bed of a masculine valley… or Winter as a harlot.

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    • March 5, 2017 at 10:35 pm

      Jim Thompson writes beautifully. Heed the Thunder is excellent, even if it was sometimes a bit difficult for me. (American country folks slang isn’t easy)

      About genders: so, there’s nothing obvious to you either. In the end, there’s more artistic licence in English in this respect.

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  5. March 5, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    I don’t think English has specific genders for the seasons, but I think of spring as feminine. Perhaps it comes from Greek myth (Persephone) and the association of fecundity. Look forward to your full review.

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    • March 5, 2017 at 11:44 pm

      I understand the Greek reference, it makes sense.
      Next billet coming soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. March 6, 2017 at 12:51 am

    When it comes to personifications in English, artists can mostly do what they like because gender isn’t embedded in the word the way it is in French. But there is, for some things, common usage, which artists would only reject purposefully for effect. Ships, boats and cars, for example, are always female (LOL probably because men would like to control them) but I do not know about motorbikes. But as to the seasons, yes, artistic licence comes into play.
    BTW because I was curious too, I Googled, and I found this:
    “although masc./fem./neuter distinctions are prevalent in IE languages, there are languages elsewhere in which the gendering of nouns is not restricted to male/female/inanimate patterns or distinctions. Some native American languages, for example, have grammatical genders relating to size, distance or edibility. “Gender”, as I understand it, is a grammatical term and concept, not a biological”. If you’re in the mood, the discussion about it is quite interesting: https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/personification-and-gender.2214092/

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    • March 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      I’ve noticed that ships and cars were “she”.

      Fascinating comment about “genders” in non-IE language. It gives another perspective on the perception of our world. The problem is that in French, the terms for grammatical genders are the same as the ones for biological genders. It’s confusing.

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  7. March 6, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Thanks for making me aware of this book by Jim Thompson. I have read The Killer Inside Me but this seems different, at least from the examples you provide.

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    • March 7, 2017 at 1:20 pm

      It is still a book by Thompson but it is different from The Killer Inside me.

      Like

  8. March 15, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Others have covered the gender and language issues. I thought I’d comment on the descriptions, which are sensual as you say and quite provocative – I’ve never seen winter (or spring) remotely described like that before. Interesting, and not what I’d expect of Thompson. I’ll need to take a look at your billet on the book itself.

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    • March 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      I’ve never seen such descriptions of landscapes either and I was surprised by this Thompson as well. I excepted his usual crime fiction but this is different.

      Like

  1. March 10, 2017 at 11:34 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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