Re: RARA-AVIS: Nightmare Alley

From: Michael Robison (
Date: 26 Sep 2004

Mark wrote:

miker, you said in your Tapping the Source post that you had been havng trouble empathizing with many of the noir characters you've been reading about lately. Did you empathize with Stanton Carlisle in this book? I found his rise and fall (not really a spoiler, its inevitability is apparent very early on) fascinating, but I can't say I empathized with him.

************** Oh yeah. No problem with that. It's easy to see Stanton at the beginning of the novel as almost a blank slate with the ability to go either way. I say
"almost" because he's strapped with some seriously Freudian childhood memories. His education into the carny view of people as marks, and how he can profit by deception aimed at people's weaknesses, seals his fate.

I would note that by "empathize" I mean that I was drawn into and involved with the character's emotions and motivations. That does not necessarily mean that I sympathize, or feel sorry, for the character.

This brings up an interesting topic (at least for me).
 I think that one of the mainstream critic's objections to noir is that it oftentimes draws the reader into some fairly evil characters. In Frohock's second edition of THE NOVEL OF VIOLENCE IN AMERICA, he accuses James Cain of immoral intent by involving readers in the wicked passions and proceedings of Frank and Cora. All I can do is smile at this sort of commentary. Frohock's understanding of the purpose of literature is a world apart from mine. Frohock is evidently looking for moral lessons, where I'm looking for Hemingway's "one true sentence."

Which characters I can empathize with tells more about my personal preferences than anything else. I like them smart and cunning, even if they are overrun by fate at the end. And yes, as probably anybody that's read my post knows by now, I'm a sucker for a shot of sensationalism. I find no delight in dumb characters in bland situations.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 26 Sep 2004 EDT