RARA-AVIS: hard-boiled females & lone wolves

Frederick Zackel (fzackel@wcnet.org)
Sat, 12 Jun 1999 09:26:15 -0400

I second the suggestion that Miami Purity by Vickie Hendricks is worthy. Her heroine makes Frank & Cora in Postman Always Rings Twice seem like sexual babes in the wood. The sheer determination to better herself and the strength of her personality is stronger than Moll Flanders ever showed. Her life is tougher than yesterday's pizza.

Hey, don't I got a knack for words!

Actually, the lone wolf part is where the hard-boiled starts to set in, I think. Is that lone wolf an obsolete mythology? Can we as a society afford it? Think of those psychos who step out of the shadows and blow away a half-dozen people at the post office or convenience store. Every one of them is a lone wolf. What do his neighbors all say afterwards? He was quiet, kept to himself, etc.

Part of the lone wolf mythology is he is willing to sacrifice himself to the good of the community. Yes, all heroes do that; soldiers, firemen, policemen. But the lone wolf is making all the right choices and stands alone when he acts. He risks all. His most powerful weapon is that he can walk down these mean streets. At night. Alone. Against the shadows and all the evil they contain.

The best part of hard-boiled is its ritualistic aspects.

My favorite Indiana Jones movie is the one where Indy sails up the River of Death. Oh, you don't remember seeing it? But that plotline--the hero sails up the river of death; will he return?--is the basic quest story.

What the lady dicks have introduced to the genre is a sense of community. They have extended families. For better or for worse they have changed the genre.

Is that family connection a bad thing? No, I don't think it has to be. In the Odyssey Ullyses sails up the river of death (i.e., goes to Hades) and meets . . . his mother. She hung herself out of despair of ever seeing her son come home. Yeah, I think that book is hard-boiled. As well as being one hell of a horror story.

Another part of the hard-boiled is the fantasty aspect. I close my eyes and imagine I'm Marlowe or Spade or Hammer or ... Not just fans, but writers do this too.

It seems to me the essence of hard-boiled is a willingness to sacrifice all, even life itself. To consciously and deliberately sail up the river of death, knowing you might not come back. That's why there are so few heroes and so many of the rest of us.

At the end of The Maltese Falcon, Spade shudders when Effie tells him Archer's wife is waiting outside. She's the River of Death.

Sue Grafton wrote . . . writes . . fantasies of what being a PI is like. But she has grown rich from those stories. She cannot turn her back on all she has "earned" and "acquired", so her later books no longer work as well as her first books did.

She can't be a lone wolf, so Kinsey Milhone can't be a lone wolf, can't be hard-boiled.

Read Miami Purity. That gal sails up the river alone.

Best wishes to all

Frederick Zackel

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