Re: RARA-AVIS: Everything's Noir?

From: Kevin Burton Smith (
Date: 19 May 2007

On May 19, 2007, at 11:43 AM, William Ahearn wrote:

> On one list I was on someone suggested that The Matrix
> and the musical Chicago were noir. Almost had to clean
> my keyboard.
> ... (not) a damn one of them is even close to noir.


I think at this point the mouthbreathers think noir means anything that's a little sad or bittersweet or downbeat or has some guy in it who needs a shave, or a woman with nice legs and garters holding a gun.

They may be great fun but they're not exactly noir. And my definition of noir is pretty open.

But there's an essence to noir that I find is missing from much of the so-called neo-noir. Too much of it focuses on all the usual trappings: guns, sex, lowlifes, booze, scum bags, etc., but misses out on the cold, black heart of true noir. The ending may be unhappy, but too often it feels predictably so, tailored to fit the purported genre, not the story itself.

Hell, Cain's Mildred Pierce probably carried more noir in her compact than some of these hyper-ventilating "noirists" have in their entire canon.

And to tell the truth, the more some writer (or their agent or publicist or whatever) tells me how "noir" their book is, the more likely it is that I'm probably going to find it pretentious and/or poorly written. A lot of bad writing tries to hide behind a self- imposed noir label. Even Akashic's long-running noir series, which I've mostly enjoyed, boasts an awful lot of stories that miss the noir boat. Again, they may be great fun but they're not exactly noir.

I think noir might just be one of those labels you can't really assign to your own work. You can aim for it in your work, but for God's sake don't talk about it. It's like a literary "KICK ME" sign.


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