Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: RARA-AVIS Digest V6 #145

From: Mario Taboada (
Date: 15 May 2004

Dark and sinister doesn't do it. Many of Goodis's stories are not dark and sinister; rather, they merely relate hopeless situations involving losers. Likewise, Charles Williams's _The Hot Spot_ (one of the greatest noir novels) is neither dark nor sinister. It is a tale of compulsion and human weakness that leads to violence and ruin. LIkewise, Willeford's _The Woman Chaser_ is neither dark nor sinister. It is a tale of a barely half-grown man's hysteria and its consequences.

The atmosphere of a noir tale can be practically anything. What makes it noir is the situations, generally involving a general lack of hope and of control by the protagonist; the writer plants those elements into the work by various methods, which can go from the subtle and ironic (Kafka, Willeford) to the sincere (Camus), to the overt
(Dostoyevsky), to the truculent (Ellroy, Harrington), to the slick and matter-of-fact (Starr), to the theatrical
(Highsmith), to the melodramatic (Brewer, Goodis, Thompson) and so forth.

You cannot strictly define noir by the atmosphere *or* by the modus operandi of the writer or puppeteer. In my opinion, everything goes back to the type of story, which always includes doom and human degradation.

Lastly, as has been said, a noir story need not include a crime. All that's needed is the certainty from early on that something very bad is going to happen to the protagonist, regardless of what he tries to do. It is always a psychological study. Hardboiled can include that, too, but it's never the main point. Westlake has created a psycho in Parker, but it's his actions and adventures that matter to the reader, not his diseased mind.

No conclusion, I'm afraid.



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