Re: RARA-AVIS: Hunter S. Thompson [long]

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 11 Apr 2000

First let me say that I admire Thompson's best work

I don't think a book needs to be fiction to fall within the hardboiled tradition. Much of Charles Bukowski's work is either non-fiction or close to it, and I think he fits squarely within the tradition. It might be interesting sometime to put a non-fiction hardboiled book on the reading list. And yeah, I agree, HELLS ANGELS is a hardboiled book.

--- Bob Toomey <> wrote:

> > Does anyone consider Hunter S. Thompson as within
> the hard boiled tradition?

> Well, I suggested that Thompson's hilarious "Fear
> and Loathing in Las
> Vagas" should be included in any list of modern
> hardboiled books. If
> hardboiled is, as I keep contending, an attitude,
> Thompson's stuff has
> attitude to spare.

But I don't agree with the above. FEAR AND LOATHING is a great book, but I don't think it's a hardboiled book. I agree that "hardboiled" is essentially an attitude or approach, or better yet, a viewpoint. But I think it's more than simply "being tough" or "having attitude". It's a specific kind of toughness, a specific kind of attitude.

I've never tried to define "hardboiled" before, mainly because all literary definitions necessarily fall short (someone can always think of an exception). But I think you can at least make rough literary definitions or outlines, and I would say the
"hardboiled approach" usually involves the following:

-- A realistic presentation of the world. It can be a sf or fantasy world, but it's got to be realistically presented. (This opts out FEAR AND LOATHING and any other book that deals with altered states of consciousness).

-- For lack of a better phrase, a "Hemingway-esque" style or derived style. I can't see any way you fit Proust into the tradition, for instance.

-- An interest in the underworld or underside of society. I think this is an important part of it. You could write a hb book about the upperclasses, but you'd have to present the lower, too, and show some connection between the two. (This would opt out tough-minded examinations of the upper crust like Edith Wharton's HOUSE OF MIRTH or Louis Auchinschloss's RECTOR OF JUSTIN).

-- Finally, a focus on an individual and how he/she makes his/her way through this world. This would opt out tough-minded books like James Jones's THIN RED LINE, in which the protagonist is essentially a group of people, a unit. For me, the hb attitude is one where the individual is paramount.

Sorry this ran so long. And, of course, I'm positive this isn't the final word on the subject -- it's just my thoughts, such as they are. But I have been thinking about this for awhile now.

One advantage of my rough definition is that it includes books that seem to be hb, but don't fit easily into the mystery genre (JUNKY, VALDEZ IS COMING, NEUROMANCER, Bukowkski's work) but excludes books that are pi novels, but seem (at least to me) to lack the right attitude (a lot of later Parker, a lot of later Block, Marcia Muller's WOLF IN THE SHADOWS, etc.) Rather than say that these later books are necessarily "bad" books (though I think the Muller book is awful)it might be more accurate to say that they're simply not hardboiled books.


===== Doug Bassett

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