Re: RARA-AVIS: Postmodernism/Woolrich

From: Richard Moore (
Date: 24 Sep 2007

--- In, William Ahearn
<williamahearn@...> wrote:
> --- Richard Moore <moorich@...> wrote:
> > I find this an odd choice of Woolrich novels and not
> > to my mind
> > representative of Woolrich at his best.
> [snip]
> > DAWN as two others that illustrate Woolrich's
> > special brand of
> > suspense.
> >
> That's funny. If there is a writer out there who can
> be picked apart for oddity, Woolrich is it. It's all a
> matter of taste. For example, "Rendezvous" is fun but
> I liked it better as "Bride Wore Black" since it's
> pretty much the same book. And "Phantom Lady" may be a
> lot of people's favorites but I didn't think the book
> -- or the movie for that matter -- really worked. But
> that's what makes horseracing. >
> William
> Essays and Ramblings
> <>
Well, I do respect the differences of opinion which make this list so rewarding. I think few writers have captured the loneliness and desperation of urban America better than Woolrich. That is one of the off-putting things for me about WALTZ as it is a period piece. But most of all, I thought the main character was such a sap.

As Mike Nevins wrote in the introduction to the Ballantine reprint of WALTZ: "As we live inside Louis' skin, aching and agonizing with his lonliness and love, we want to scream at the dumb masochist to renounce his faith, break with the woman and save his own life and sanity. Step back from the book, look at it in the cold light of reason, and the story conjures up ludicrous memories of Theda Bara vamp movies, and subtitltes of the 'Kiss me, you fool!' ilk."

I couldn't agree more. As Nevins was writing an introduction to WALTZ, I wasn't surprised at his next line: "But Woolrich's maniacal power as a writer makes it next to impossible to think like a critic, and we are trapped in his net like Louis in the woman- web."

For me, I just wanted to shake old Louis until he rattled. I recognize that the hero in noir is usually led into hell by a temptress. But there is a line where the character becomes such a sappy nitwit that I don't want to spend any significant time with him. That's a real problem here as WALTZ must be Woolrich's longest novel. I like this theme in the novels of James Cain, Charles Williams and Gil Brewer where I accept the lure and the fall as believable and where the story is told in 50,000 words. A guy reading those novels recognizes that as Ben Hecht once wrote "the f**king you get isn't worth the f**king you get", but presented with the same temptation as the hero might make the same choice. Now that I think of it, that Hecht quote pretty much sums up the Cain/Williams/Brewer subgenre.

I don't have Nevins' biography of Woolrich handy (having moved recently even more books are in boxes than usual) but I am curious as to his evaluation of WALTZ in something other than a introduction.

Woolrich's SAVAGE BRIDE, his Gold Medal novel, is another one to avoid. But again, I recognize that others may disagree.

One other thought about Woolrich is that he has suffered by being so imitated both in print and in film. It is difficult reading him today to realize how innovative many of his novels were.

Richard Moore

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