Re: RARA-AVIS: Geoffrey Gorer on James Hadley Chase

Date: 03 Jan 2005

Etienne, very interesting discussion about the differences between France and England, and the different intents of the authors from those two countries in imitating American hardboiled. One part, in particular, got me thinking:

"I do not think that Chase was really thinking that America was as he painted it in his first books; he just blew up the major traits, prominent clich鳬 of American noir/HB lit of the time. America was an excuse: It just happened that American HB novels were good sellers... so he wanted to fake it. Real America was really not his goal, which explains his fantasies."

Is "real America" any more the goal of American writers? While many of them do careful research on the particulars contained within their novels, and some explore real issues in America, don't at least as many deal in an America as mythic as those foreigners do? In fact, don't some of them use that mythology to explore the very concept of what
"real America" is? I know that sounds kind of cosmic (and that I'm rambling a bit), but I'm trying to address writers like Jack O'Connell
(not that there are any other writers like O'Connell) who set their stories in a surreal, expressionist, mythic, whatever you want to call it, city that is not "real," but is.

Sure, it can easily be said that Chase and Vian were dealing with detached, even freefloating signs of America, while the American writers' signs have roots, but isn't that just a difference of degree? Although both are needed, aren't the roots within the genre more important t readers than those within a particular country's geography? For instance, while locals might notice questionable geography or customs in books set in cities I've never visited, my main concern is how the books satisfy my genre expectations (and general human nature and behavior). I know nothing of the accuracy of Yasmin Khadra's Algeria, for instance. He paints a vivid picture in Morituri, though, and the book fulfills my genre expectations (even while expanding them). The same could be said for numerous American locales I haven't visited, like Burke's New Orleans or Montana, Crumley's Montana, Kantner's Detroit, etc. And although I've visited LA a few times, I'm not sure it has a whole hell of a lot in common with Ellroy's, or Chandler's for that matter.

Now I understand the appeal of geographic verisimilitude. As a local, I get a big kick out of initimately knowing exactly where a Pelecanos or Thomas scene is set in DC, but other neighborhoods they detail are as foreign to me as Rankin's Glasgow. I guess it all comes down to whether we are looking for realism or naturalism.


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