Re: RARA-AVIS: Question for Mr. Sallis

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 23 Feb 2004

Jim Sallis wrote <snipped>:
"Hardboiled" still means something, I think, but chiefly in opposition to something else, and it's really more a marketing tool than a useful description. Well, yeah, sure Hammett and Chandler. Pelecanos. But what about Danny Woodrell, Jack O'Connell, Shira Rozan, John Harvey? There's just too much rich, various, highly original work going on these days for us to be held to historical categories.


My first exposure to noir fiction was a Library of America collection of six noir novels from the 30s and 40s. McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? was one of them. Reading them was enough to dig up the ambiguity factor involving the definition of noir. Five of them (Anderson's THIEVES LIKE US, Woolrich's I MARRIED A DEAD MAN, Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, Gresham's NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and the McCoy title) had an easily discernable thread of desperation and impending doom. Fearing's THE BIG CLOCK stuck out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, noir fiction seems alive and well today. Kent Harrington's DARK RIDE is pure noir, and Woodrell doesn't seem to have much problem with the noir label. My introduction to Woodrell was his wickedly funny and ironic GIVE US A KISS: A COUNTRY NOIR.

And existentialism is surely the philosophy of noir. The collapse of an accepted set of values and the struggle to reconstruct a life from the ashes is right up the old noir alley. Existentialism suggests that a man is defined by the choices he makes, and a major noir theme is the exploration of the results of bad or limited choices. It also anticipates the antagonistic relationship between man and society based on the restrictions that society places on a man's choices.


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