From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 31 Mar 2003

THE BIG HEAT helped me further define the noir genre for myself on two accounts. A couple months ago I read Paul Duncan's NOIR FICTION. His definition of noir requires a protagonist that has lost control of himself and is powerless to effect any significant change. Essentially he was excluding most detective fiction from his definition and embracing characters from Jim Thompson, David Goodis, James Cain, and others. His argument was that the char- acters couldn't be teetering on the brink of the abyss; they had to be drowning in it. This corresponded with Mario's comment that Hammett's work wasn't noir simply because it was too tough. I was leaning towards this noir interpretation myself until I read McGivern's book. But my brain tells me that THE BIG HEAT is noir and Bannion, although how much control he has is arguable, is definitely able to effect change. So I have decided to disagree with Duncan's idea of the requirements for a noir protagonist.

The other thing is the ending. There has been some question as to whether a noir can end well or not. Many moons ago Jim Doherty said that if a book is dark and sinister, it is noir no matter whether the ending is happy or not. But then all the noir I read ended in death or defeat, so I had to start wondering. After reading THE BIG HEAT, I've decided that noir can have a happy ending. For a long time now in the back of my head I've had a really skeptical feeling about a genre definition that requires a certain type of ending, and with the wrong ending the rest of the book's leaning towards the genre is negated. That seems limited, shallow, and superficial to me. Literature sneers at unqualified Pollyanna optimism. Like Charles Willeford said, "All great literature is depressing." Seems to me that unqualified pessimism is just as naive, even if it is more fashionable.

I found The Big Heat DVD. It's number one on the Netflix queue now. At least until my daughter gets back on there and rearranges all of hers back up to the top. ;-)


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