A number of themes interweave in Pop. 1280, but deception is primary among them. Pottsville is a small town, and its citizens would like to believe it is a nice place to live, a good and civilized state in a great country. However, at all levels of society, people are living lies, deep and twisted lies that go down into their corrupt souls. Nick Corey is the best example of this. He is so twisted that he is at ease with deception and can kill two men, sleep well, and then frame a good friend for it the next day. He is a sheriff, but he kills for pride (the pimps) and for revenge (Tom Hauck), lies to everyone, earns re-election through dirty tricks, and has as many affairs as he has the energy for. From political corruption (Nick takes bribes) to the acceptance of vice (allowing prostitution within the town) to voyeurism (Lennie sneaks around and stares in windows) and blackmail (Myra claims Nick raped her, and blackmails him into marrying her), every dark perversion you could imagine is in Pottsville.

The world of Pop. 1280 is a world of casual violence. While no one is particularly happy about a man beating his wife, or a white man beating a black man, such violence is largely treated as no more than a superficial failing. When Ken Lacey, a sheriff, repeatedly kicks Nick in the buttocks until Nick can barely walk, it is part of a supposedly friendly joke. And when Nick solves a number of problems by killing those responsible, the result is neither arrest nor rejection, but in some cases, intense sexual reward.

Sheriff Nick Corey is lazy and, at least on the surface, extremely stupid. He is not just violent: he is at ease with violence. And yet, as he says in the novel’s first chapter, he has never had any trouble getting women. That is an understatement. Women crawl all over him, whether they are married, single,...

(The entire section is 515 words.)