RARA-AVIS: Book review in The Baffler

William Denton (buff@pobox.com)
Mon, 14 Jun 1999 21:28:56 -0400 (EDT)


I think I mentioned The Baffler once before, but I can't find it in the archives. However, in the latest issue (#12), there's a review of Robert Polito's _Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s_ and _50s_. The reviewer, Mike Newirth, looks at the selected books (which include titles by Himes, Willeford, Fearing, Cain and Goodis) and talks about how they relate to proletarian literature of the '30s, politics and popular culture. It's well worth reading (as is the rest of the journal, especially if you like Chicago lefties).

The final paragraph ends with:

"... The quiet storms of these novels remain inviting against a contemporary aesthetic where the subtleties of real violence are lots in the universal translator, dumbed down into a single sick joke. What real murder or heist or cabal can reach us--can touch us with the fundamentally perverse and recognizable human impulses of the perpetrators--now that we all know enough to appreciate the zany humour of John Travolta
"accidentally" firing a .45 hollowpoint into the skinny guy's head, getting hitman Samuel Jackson's kool ride all fucked up with brains and shit? It's funny, we respond, in unison, as the synthetic blood patters down, as the Pepsi-drinking hitman rants on the big screen. We may flinch and giggle, but we're not particularly surprised or concerned, because what we're viewing bears no more familiarity or relevance to our lives than, say, a spectacle of giant gore-spraying gladiator insects. Despite their hoary vintage, the best of classic American crime writing offers no such divorce from prosaic reality, and it's this element that makes them still convincing and sometimes chilling, and that weaves into even a book as gray and personal as David Goodis's _Down There_ (1956) an undeniably political consciousness. For readers who no longer recognize normality, these novels will seem only dated. But the curious circumstances these long buried writers portrayed are still with us--the too-quiet cafe, the too-helpful lawman, the darkness just beyond our brightly lit spaces--and as the news reports from such ordinary, frightened places as Junction City and Jonesboro confirm, we still live in a country where the civil dance of white flight--lock the door! call 911!--is but a placebo in the face of ever more probable collisions, a lame imitation of the safety we crave."


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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