“The Big Clock” by Kenneth Fearing plus a Couple of Poems by Fearing

“The Big Clock” by Kenneth Fearing (1946) – 174 pages

 Poet / Writer Kenneth Fearing hit the jackpot with his suspense thriller novel “The Big Clock” in 1946.  Up until that time, Fearing was most widely known as a poet, and we all know how much or how little money poets make.  Just to keep himself and his family afloat, he wrote pulp and mystery novels.  But “The Big Clock” is no ordinary mystery novel; it has one of the most original and suspenseful plots ever devised.  The plot of “The Big Clock”, could be called a whodunit-in-reverse. I won’t describe it any further, because the plot’s structure is such a thing of beauty I want you to discover it for yourselves.   

 The publishers and the movie executives recognized right away the value of “The Big Clock”, and in 1946 Fearing made $10,000 in book royalties and $50,000 for the movie rights. These $60,000 dollars in 1946 would be worth over a million dollars today, and the Fearings should have been set for life.  However Fearing was a poet not a deal maker, they spent the money extravagantly, and Fearing, an alcoholic for most of his adult life, was near broke again by 1951.  

 “The Big Clock” as a novel is just as fresh, powerful and original today as it was in 1946.  New York Review Books (NYRB) republished “The Big Clock” along with another of his novels, “Clark Gifford’s Body”, in 2006.  I don’t read many suspense thrillers, but this one I thoroughly enjoyed; I loved its jaunty debonair style.

 Kenneth Fearing was very much on the side of the common man.  In the Red Scare years of the early 1950s, the FBI rounded him up and asked him the question, “Are you a member of the Communist Party?”  Fearing answered, “Not yet.” 

 As I researched this article, I discovered that Fearing left behind some strong poetry too.   Here are some excellent lines from his poem ‘1-2-3 was the Number he played, but Today the Number Came 3-2-1’.

 ”And wow he died as wow he lived,
going whop to the office and blooie home to sleep and
biff got married and bam had children and oof got fired,
zowie did he live and zowie did he die,”

 I’m going to end with a complete poem by Kenneth Fearing which I only discovered today, and already I can’t help but think this poem is one of my favorite poems of the twentieth century.

 Love 20¢ The First Quarter Mile

 All right. I may have lied to you and about you, and made a few
pronouncements a bit too sweeping, perhaps, and possibly forgotten
to tag the bases here or there,
And damned your extravagance, and maligned your tastes, and libeled
your relatives, and slandered a few of your friends,
Nevertheless, come back.

Come home. I will agree to forget the statements that you issued so
copiously to the neighbors and the press,
And you will forget that figment of your imagination, the blonde from Detroit;
I will agree that your lady friend who lives above us is not crazy, bats,
nutty as they come, but on the contrary rather bright,
And you will concede that poor old Steinberg is neither a drunk, nor
a swindler, but simply a guy, on the eccentric side, trying to get along.
(Are you listening, you bitch, and have you got this straight?)

Because I forgive you, yes, for everything.
I forgive you for being beautiful and generous and wise,
I forgive you, to put it simply, for being alive, and pardon you, in short, for being you.

Because tonight you are in my hair and eyes,
And every street light that our taxi passes shows me you again, still you,
And because tonight all other nights are black, all other hours are cold
and far away, and now, this minute, the stars are very near and bright

Come back. We will have a celebration to end all celebrations.
We will invite the undertaker who lives beneath us, and a couple of
boys from the office, and some other friends.
And Steinberg, who is off the wagon, and that insane woman who lives
upstairs, and a few reporters, if anything should break.

2 responses to this post.

  1. The poetry looks good! A very American voice. I’ve never heard of Fearing.

    Most of these NYRB books are wonderful and I rely on them the way some readers rely on their Viragos.


  2. Hi Frisbee,
    I am very happy someone actually read the poems. I don’t expect everyone to find them as amazing as I do. For me Kenneth Fearing is now on that short list of excellent poets.


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