Re: RARA-AVIS: upbeat endings not hard boiled?

From: George Upper (
Date: 12 Feb 2002

Okay, I'm only about a month behind in this stream, but I thought I would throw in my two cents:

In hard-boiled fiction, the world is more or less the same at the end of the story as it was in the beginning. Some people may be better off, some people are usually a little worse off (this often includes the protagonist), but in general, order is restored to the status quo ante.

In noir, no one wins. If anyone is better off at all, and there usually isn't anyone, it's the person or persons least deserving of it. The world is worse off at the end of the story than at the beginning.

At least, that's how I define the difference.

The Maltese Falcon is hard-boiled, then, because Spade has found a love but lost her, and Gutman et al. are still searching for the bird. Archer is dead, but Spade has brought the killer to justice. Wilbur is on the lam, but deserves to be. Status quo ante, more or less (although Miles might beg to differ).

Spenser may generally solve the crime and get the girl
(or re-get her, so to speak), but not always and not without cost. Generally, that cost is in a new level of awareness of his mortality, as his code fails to work perfectly in an imperfect world. Often, though, his failing are greater than that--like when he lets Rachel Wallace get kidnapped (actually, no--he delays her rescue) because he didn't give the cops a piece of information he had or in SAVAGE PLACE where his lover gets killed because he didn't follow her closely enough. That kind of thing.

Okay, maybe that was my four cents.


===== George C. Upper III, Editor The Lightning Bell Poetry Journal

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