Re: RARA-AVIS: Types of noir (was Re: Pop. 1280)

From: Allan Guthrie (
Date: 01 Aug 2007

Haven't quite read all of Goodis's novels. Still got one to go (and I've no good reason for avoiding it).

I take your point about THE BIG HEAT. Retrospectively, it probably isn't noir, but as you're reading the book you're immersed in a corrupt and brutal world where the protagonist loses his wife to a car bomb and goes rogue because he can't get justice any other way. In the moment, it feels like noir.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Michael Robison
  Sent: Wednesday, August 01, 2007 7:16 PM
  Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Types of noir (was Re: Pop. 1280)

  Allan Guthrie wrote:

  I'd suggest that many of David Goodis's protagonists
  are victims of circumstance.

  How about the protagonist of THE ROAD? I didn't spot
  the part where he transgresses, but he steals to
  survive so I suppose it depends whose morals we're
  talking about.

  Several Woolrich protagonists are non-transgressing

  I'd also suggest that in McGivern's THE BIG HEAT, the
  protagonist is doomed the moment his car explodes (ie
  before he commits any act of transgression).

  I think you've read every Goodis novel, so you've got
  the advantage on me there. I've read Shoot the Piano
  Player and Cassidy's Girl. I'd agree that neither
  protagonists are doomed by moral transgression. In
  Shoot the Piano Player, he's pretty much rolling in
  self-pity and self-hate. Although this might be
  reprehensible, it's probably not immoral. Cassidy is
  doomed by two horrendous accidents, both of which he
  is only marginally accountable for. He is also doomed
  by his obsession with Mildred which is not immoral
  either. Cassidy is drunken and weak-willed, but his
  doom stems from reasons beyond his control.

  As far as Woolrich, I've only read I Married a Dead
  Man, and in this one the girl lies about her identity
  after a train wreck in order to assume the comfortable
  and well-off life of someone else. Definitely a
  naughty and transgressive girl.

  The Road? No transgression there, either. The father
  is just in a bad situation. This book is not
  deterministic, either. And the father's doom is his
  illness. And although he dies at the end, he has
  succeeded. His son seems to have been passed into
  safe hands.

  I'm hesitant to say that the protagonist in The Big
  Heat is doomed. He loses his wife in the explosion
  but there is a hell of a payback and in the end both
  he and his son are intact. There is one very critical
  moment in The Big Heat where he is tempted to step way
  over the line. He doesn't. I'm OK with you calling
  The Big Heat noir. I know the movie is, but the truth
  is that the plot is a tough guy avenging a wrong and
  coming out triumphant at the end. Personally, I'd
  rather not call it noir.

  Good examples of noir protagonists swimming in the
  abyss without moral accountability, Al! I have other
  things I'd like to mention about the above, but if the
  wife gets home and the electric can opener is not
  mounted under the cabinet... well, we would definitely
  be talking noir then.


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