Re: RARA-AVIS: form/formula

From: William Ahearn (
Date: 28 Jan 2008

--- wrote:

> John mentioned that many contemporary literary
> novels don't have form,
> much less formula. William asked if that was a bad
> thing. That
> interchange reminded me of a question I sometimes
> entertain: What
> authors are experimenting with form and formula in
> hardboiled and noir
> fiction?

Let me put this in context. For the most part I've had an antagonistic relationship with this list. Ultimately, I think we agree but we bog down in the particulars. For example, I don't think Bruen is a big deal or is playing with form. Granted, I've only read his series and series for the most part bore me. They become a formula of their own no matter what genius drove the first installment. They become soap opera and that is why I never finished the Crais I was reading because it was deep in the series and it involved some past criminal now looming in the present to threaten his daughter. Or whatever. Bruen is writing a cozy dressed in noir but more of the cozy formula exists than that of noir. I could maybe swallow that when the Hayes office demanded it but not now. So I cut some slack for the writers of the '40s and '50s but I cut no slack for those writing now.

Crime writers tend to stay to the tune as closely as wedding bands and when they break away I am the first to love it. And that is why I loved Miami Purity so much and yet I want to kick Megan Abbott in the butt and tell her to get over herself, her education and her latent sense of literature. Abbott has the goods and yet she has missed the white lines of the highway every time. Sometimes I seek out writers mentioned on this list that I've never heard of and never read and rarely have I found a writer that speaks to me. And that, to me is literature. Not some New Yorker magazine or canon dreamed up by some university. Vachss -- who has been mentioned on this list recently
-- to me is the ultimate poser. Most of his books spend as much time on his car as his needs and his obsession with children comes from his wife's career. He is a vulture and a vampire no matter how postured his early work might be.

That is the ultimate question. Crime readers want a certain thing as tangible as johns on a late night in Times Square -- or westside sex clubs or postings on craigslist -- and some of us want a new slant, a different angle, a way into the material that illuminates the human soul in a real way. The last time I read Rebus, I tossed the book against the wall. It reeked of genre. I have never tossed Homer, Joyce, or West against the wall because it reeked of literature.

Playing with form is one thing. But it can be as contrived as playing with memory or plot. Give me something that sings of the soul in a real voice or just go home and I'll call you. I swear.


Essays and Ramblings

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