Re: RARA-AVIS: The American Way (was serial killers)

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 03 Mar 2000

A while ago, Mark B wrote about serial killer books:

"It's the American way: all flash and no thinking allowed."

I've made it pretty clear in the past that, with a few exceptions, I'm not much of a fan of serial killer books either. Still, this phrase has been rattling around in my head ever since I read it.

Sure, this is just a variation on the ever-popular complaint about mundane, mainstream taste, which I often indulge in myself. But why did this tyranny of the majority, LCD taste have to be declared "The American Way"? This dismissal lumps audience, publishers and authors into one category. Although serial killer books are usually written in and are immensely popular in the US, aren't the majority of the books with which we would replace the psychos also by-products of the American Way?

I think we'd all agree that hardboiled/noir is an inherently American artform. Like jazz and rock 'n' roll, it has spread around the world
(and like jazz it is often better appreciated overseas than in its native land), with various other countries boasting their own masters -- for instance, Derek Raymond, Ted Lewis and the Fresh Blood school in the UK; Malet, Japrisot, Simenon in France, etc. -- but the US still produces a lot, probably still the bulk of the good stuff.

So rail against the American audience that puts serial killers on the bestsellers list (both in books and films), but when you claim bad stuff is the American Way, you are also damning Hammett, Chandler, the MacDonalds (with big and little D), Thompson, the Marlowes, Goodis, O'Connell, Lansdale, Westlake, Block and so many more.


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