A Hundred Ways to Live was inspired by a number of excellent crime films that came out of the United States in 70s. Films like Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967), The Getaway (Sam Peckinpah, 1972), Charley Varrick (Don Siegel, 1973), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973) and The Outfit (John Flynn, 1973) are haunted by the notion that society is fast running out of gas on the long lonely Road to Nowhere.
Watching these films today, I’m struck by their images of waste and decay. They take us to scrapyards, rubbish tips, storm drains, industrial wastelands and other peripheral, liminal parts of big cities. The people they portray are small-time crooks, ex-cons, or both – invariably independent operators trying to make their way despite the large (criminal) organizations out to get them. The men are men, who inhabit a new world that has suddenly become corporatized and anonymous, and upon whom the feminist revolution has barely impinged, but whose intuitive responses to their problems include a puzzled reevaluation of their women. As for the women, they remain loyal to their men in their own way, but are stuck in more-or-less unsatisfactory relationships that ebb and flow with the vagaries of the criminal career. They have to wait around a lot and fend for themselves, living in squalid motel rooms and driving in beat-up automobiles.
Of course, crime has always been a massively popular subject for treatment in popular culture. When we watch or read about these fictional characters, we hold up to ourselves a dark mirror in which we glimpse our socially acceptable ambitions for wealth, happiness and love, and their unacceptable accomplices – greed, ruthlessness, treachery. Like the fella said, ‘After all, crime is merely a left-handed form of human endeavor’ (if you recognize that quote, you’re really sharp).
So this is the kind of world I wanted to evoke in my short story. However, I didn’t want to focus exclusively on the crime itself, nor on the violence, police procedure and exotic villains that are the staple ingredients of the crime genre. I’m much more interested in the aftermath of crime, its consequences for perpetrators and victims alike. I like to hang out with the semi-losers who inhabit the fringes of the action, for whom their one big score has been purchased at enormous cost to themselves and their loved ones.
I found the ending to this story extremely hard to find. If the characters knew what to do, they certainly weren’t telling me. Genre demands certain outcomes and it’s hard to escape that and find something else, something more satisfying, that points beyond itself. All genre peddles ideology, of course, but it was only when confronted by the intransigence of this story that I learned just how hard a sell it is.