The Pyx is the story of Elizabeth Lucy, a high-end call girl who dies on the first page. The novel has many flavors: pulp noir, mystery and crime story, character study, tragedy, with some Satanism tossed in to make things even more spicy. The tale is told in alternating perspectives: 'The Present' features soul-deadened detective Henderson searching for clues and 'The Past' features soul-deadened Elizabeth, slowly moving towards her terminal destination but trying to do one last good thing. Her ending is one that she fears but somehow craves as well.
The language has the brutal beauty of the best of pulp crime fiction. Hard-boiled and poetic in equal amounts, full of terse dialogue, barely understood longings, bleakly sardonic commentary on the smallness of lives, bottomless despair and monstrous cruelty conveyed in brief and ambiguous turns of phrase, paragraphs that describe the living breathing bustling world that suddenly end with an off-hand sentence describing bloodstains on a sidewalk. It is a beautiful novel and Elizabeth Lucy is one of the more memorable examples of the hardened prostitute with a heart of gold that I've read. The book is the same: deeply cynical and angrily pessimistic but allowing many characters - Elizabeth, Henderson, a sensitively rendered gay friend, a mourning father, an alcoholic priest, and several others - to show their souls in ways that are genuinely moving. The Pyx is a surprisingly soulful book, and I loved it for that.
It has a very an off-putting final chapter that reveals the mystery of the pyx and the motivations of the primary villain. It appears to be written by another person entirely - "Daniel Mannix" - but I don't know if that is true or not. The style is certainly different than anything that came before, so I'm inclined to believe it. The ending reminded me a lot of the ending of the film Psycho: that smarmy psychologist, attempting to render all of the strangeness and ambiguity that have come before his scene into something that is logical, even prosaic, an uncomfortable but still easily digestible set of formulaic motivations. And as with Psycho, the memory of all the strange ambiguity that came before renders The Pyx's final chapter as nothing more than a footnote. Or perhaps even just a wink to the reader, much as Hitchcock was winking to Psycho's audience. Sure, things can be explained, things that are horrible or beautiful or full of pathos or just unnervingly and threateningly weird. But can you ever truly explain away such things? And why would you want to? They defy explanation.
Worther or Mrs. Latimer would want the body, but alive, alive to peddle it, to feed it heroin, to dress it up, to make it entertain lechers who had nothing but money and erotic energy, to make it stop belonging to a human being, to make it wind up here with a long jump, or a long push.
She felt, not cut off, but far away from what was happening, the people existed just like a radio you've forgotten was on, and her walking was motion that she wanted to stop soon.
She said very quietly, "Coffee, please," and sat down at a table. A while ago, perhaps years, she would have noticed his action and smiled, enjoying the effect she had. She might even be pleased a little. But now, she couldn't be pleased or flattered by her beauty; it wasn't part of her consciousness; it was just a fact, a thing that was part of her life, something others thought she was lucky enough to have, something others wanted. She had no mental picture of herself as an outwardly visible person; she had only an inner vision of...
"Here's your coffee, miss."