Nightmare Alley (New York Review Books Classics)
William Lindsay Gresham
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Nightmare Alley begins with an extraordinary description of a freak-show geek—alcoholic and abject and the object of the voyeuristic crowd’s gleeful disgust and derision—going about his work at a county fair. Young Stan Carlisle is working as a carny, and he wonders how a man could fall so low. There’s no way in hell, he vows, that anything like that will ever happen to him.
And since Stan is clever and ambitious and not without a useful streak of ruthlessness, soon enough he’s going places. Onstage he plays the mentalist with a cute bimbo (before long his harried wife), then he graduates to full-blown spiritualist, catering to the needs of the rich and gullible in their well-upholstered homes. It looks like the world is Stan’s for the taking. At least for now.
on tight to the carpet I won’t slide and hit the wall with his fist beating away on the mantelpiece she sits straight up on the edge of the sofa looking at herself in the glass sign in front of the church when they boarded up the attic door and his hands bunching up the tablecloth as I rammed it into him, Gyp. That fat bastard I hope I blinded him following the star that burns in his lantern head down from the living wood. In the office trailer McGraw was typing out a letter when he heard a tap
floor. While Stan sat in the early morning stillness of the empty kitchen, cutting off slices of bread and loading them with jelly, he read the catalog: “… a real professional outfit, suitable for theater, club, or social gathering. An hour’s performance complete. With beautiful cloth-bound instruction book. Direct from us or at your toy or novelty dealer’s. $15.00.” After his eighth slice of bread and jelly he put the remains of his breakfast away and went out on the back porch with the
and Mrs. Peabody got up, straightening her dress. “My dear, it is so good of you to come to us. We appreciate it so.” She led the way downstairs. In the living room all the lights were extinguished, save for a single oil lamp with a shade of ruby-red glass which the clergyman had brought with him. It gave just enough light for each person to see the faces of the others. The Rev. Carlisle took the medium by the hand and led her to the armchair in the niche. “Let us try first without closing
the wagon. But don’t let that stop you.” “Okay, sport. Here’s lead in your pencil.” When she finished it she poured herself another and then said, “You better give me the fin now before I forget it.” Stan handed her a ten-dollar bill and she said, “Gee, thanks. Say, would you happen to have two fives?” Silence. She broke it. “Lookit—radio in every room! That’s something new for this dump. Say, let’s listen to Charlie McCarthy. D’you mind?” Stan was looking at her spindly legs. As she hung the
hand was gone. With an unconscious shout Grindle leaped up and threw himself after the vanishing hand, only to spin around and claw at the curtains of the doorway to keep himself from falling. For his right wrist was firmly secured by copper wire to the wrist of the medium who was now groaning and gasping, his eyes half open and rolled up, until the whites looked as stark as the eyes of a blind beggar. Then Grindle felt the room beyond them to be empty and still. He stood, fighting for breath,