Waiting For Nothing
is dark and depressing. Kromer’s brutal honesty and short, terse sentences create an atmosphere of hopelessness.
I can understand why this novel has been poorly remembered. It does not align with the genre of romantic vagabond adventure tales like Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory
. Kromer exhibits no desire to fictionalize or glorify his life as a stiff; there is nothing uplifting, no hint of Hollywood in the story. At times the book is also guilt-inducing, since many readers were and are much more able to identify with the stories “antagonists” – those who walked out of restaurants full and satisfied, change jingling in their pockets – than Kromer’s character.
The story lacks a typical plot-arc, but there are several motifs of depression-era writing that exist in other novels we’ve read. Early in the novel, Kromer decides to hold up a bank. He says, “This is the last time I will whine for a feed. I am going to show these bastards I will get mine” (55).
In Grapes of Wrath
, the characters lamented the oppression of higher powers, whether that came in the form of the sharecropping institution, government, or the bank. The Jim Casey martyr figure, the man who risks his safety to rise above the abuse, takes an interesting turn in Waiting for Nothing
. As Kromer waits in line at the bank, his gun resting in his pocket, tension builds and the reader anticipates an exciting moment, maybe even a redemptive moment. But Kromer pathetically fails to even pull the gun out of his pocket because it is stuck on the lining of his pants. It’s a total anti-climax.
Kromer is the anti-Horatio Alger. The antithesis of the sexy bank robber savior. In an era where gangsters and bank robbers where romanticized, and the Robin Hood myth loomed in the back of the national consciousness, of course Waiting for Nothing
was a total bust!
The book is useful because it highlights the writing techniques of the era’s famed fiction writers. It is gritty and sad. Kromer is powerless and paralyzed by poverty.
No wonder figures like Pretty Boy Floyd have are so revered. To an economically starved public who feels victimized by the forces in power, any way to “stick it to the man” feels good. Sometime those who are being trod on don’t even know who to point a finger at, or what to accuse them of (obviously the Occupy Wall Street protests come to mind, but that’s a subject for another post).