Re: RARA-AVIS: Rendezvous In Black

From: Karin Montin (
Date: 04 Mar 2008

OK, Woolrich, a few days late, as per usual. I read I Married a Dead Man in Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s (great present). Interesting structure--first and last sections the exact same, with the middle a long flashback. Interesting dilemma, too: who's the killer? The narrator or her husband? The narrator says she didn't do it, but acknowledges that the husband claims that he didn't, either. The possibility of a third party isn't really entertained. A pretty good story.

The prose is anything but pared down. Woolrich favours a kind of repetition, a kind of repetion that can build a mood, but a kind of repetition that can also be boring. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.


At 08:31 PM 29/02/2008 +0000, you wrote:

>My apologies for being absent from Woolrich month for the past few
>days but I've been tied up with family matters. It's hard to do
>much writing when there is the imperative of a two-year-old grandson
>tugging at my sleeve to read to him and his two-day old brother is
>upstairs crying his first protests to the world.
>I mentioned at the beginning of this Woolrich month that my favorite
>Woolrich novel is RENDEZVOUS IN BLACK (1948). It features
>the "avenging angel" themes that Woolrich often used in his novels
>and most resembles the much better known THE BRIDE WORE BLACK
>(1940). In many ways, BRIDE is more striking from the stark image of
>the title to the female protagonist. In the first novel, the bride
>is left a widow on the church steps when gunfire from a passing car
>kills her husband. She then tracks down everyone in the car in
>order to avenge her murdered love.
>In RENDEZVOUS, the novel opens with a young man on his way to meet
>his fianc饠on a street corner. I love the opening setup to the
>novel with the outline of a relationship that is both wonderful and
>ordinary in hometown American way. If you were casting this scene in
>the year the novel came out, it would have starred Van Johnson and
>June Allyson.
>One of the joys of reading Woolrich for me is the riffs he tosses off
>all along the way. In describing the young man Johnny Marr, he said
>he looked "Like any Johnny, anywhere, any time. Even people who had
>seen him hundreds of times couldn't have described him very clearly,
>he looked so much like the average, he ran so true to form. She
>could have, but that was because she had special eyes for him. He
>was a thousand other young fellows his own age, all over,
>everywhere. You see them everywhere. You look at them and you don't
>see them. That is, not to describe afterwards. `Sort of sandy
>hair,' they might have said. `Brown eyes.' And then they would have
>given up, slipped unnoticeably over the line from strict physical
>description. `Nice, clean-cut young fellow; never has much to say;
>can't tell much about him.' …He would perhaps take his coloring from
>her, starting in slowly from this June on. He was waiting to be
>completed, he wasn't meant to stop the way he was."
>So Woolrich has set up the loss that is about to occur to Johnny as
>more than the loss of a fianc饬 an unconsummated love. Johnny is
>about to lose a huge piece of himself and his chance to be complete.
>The girl is also idealized. "Her name was Dorothy, and she was
>lovely. You couldn't describe her either, but not for the same
>reason. You can't describe light very easily. You can tell where it
>is, but not what it is. Light was where she was. There may have
>been prettier girls, but there have never been lovelier ones…She was
>everyone's first love…She was the promise made to everyone at the
>start, that can never quite be carried out afterward, and never is."
>And our Johnny is about to enter a world of darkness. Before he
>reaches their regular point of rendezvous, a bottle falls out of the
>sky and kills Dorothy. In a few pages, Woolrich outlines how Johnny
>goes through a period of nearly immobilized mourning before he learns
>that the bottle was thrown from a charter plane carrying a group of
>The novel then moves to a series of segments dubbed "The First
>Rendezvous", "The Second Rendezvous" and etc. as Johnny seeks revenge
>against everyone on that plane. It becomes apparent to the reader
>that he is not usually seeking to kill the men from the plane.
>Typically, he seeks to destroy the person or relationship each of the
>men hold most precious.
>There are some brilliant elements to developing the story this way.
>Woolrich makes use of Johnny's indistinct appearance in several
>ways. As the episodes mount, a detective named Cameron begins to
>connect the cases as Johnny is leaving cryptic unsigned notes at the
>conclusion of each rendezvous. Cameron is hampered by the fact that
>few people can describe the person that the detective realizes must
>be the perpetrator.
>More importantly, the reader does not always know which character in
>each episode is the avenging angel Johnny. Sometimes it is not so
>obvious and this adds to the suspense. Also it is not obvious at the
>beginning of each episode is the intended victim-the person most dear
>to the object of Johnny's revenge. Add these two suspenseful
>features to the overt "race against the clock" suspense of the later
>episodes as Cameron identifies the next victim and races to prevent
>the next crime.
>One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is how Woolrich
>forces the reader to completely reverse emotional ties. Johnny
>starts off the novel as a totally sympathetic character and this
>continues for a time into the revenge chapters. But Woolrich forces
>the reader to turn against Johnny as the victims are quite innocent
>of any direct involvement with his fianc鳠death and are themselves
>quite sympathetic. Instead of pulling for Johnny to gain his
>revenge, the reader begins to pull against him and for the
>detective. In the episodes, Johnny has disappeared and is replaced
>by a merciless avenger.
>As Francis Nevins points out in his biography of Woolrich, there are
>many flaws in the plot, although fewer problems than he found in
>BRIDE, …"but on the visceral level where Wool Rich's work either
>stands or falls, it is a masterful performance." I agree with his
>opinion that it is "one of the most powerful suspense novels ever
>I know this is a long post but in winding up Woolrich month, I want
>to quote a few paragraphs or from my favorite Woolrich riff. It is
>in the "Third Rendezvous" on a troop train (the novel takes place
>just before and during World War II): "The ceiling lights peered
>down through the blurring layers of tobacco smoke upon the packed
>humanity clogging the aisle, swaying and undulating in unison, but in
>no danger of falling, for there was not room enough to fall in.
>Passing paper cups of gin or corn from hand to hand, like relays in a
>chain…Singing shouting, laughing, scowling in momentary but quickly-
>dispelled quarrel…"
>Later the train is shunted to the side to make way for another
>train. "Somewhere immediately outside there was a continuous
>clacking vibration going on. It didn't come from the car itself now;
>that stood still; it was an external vibration that shook its
>windowpanes, and shook its wheel-trucks, and even seemed to shake the
>very tracks it stood on. On one side only, on the left, outside on
>the next track, an endless succession of dark inscrutable cars went
>flitting by, ghostlike. Not a light showing. A train of death. A
>cavalcade of doom. Dozens of black cars, scores of them; shaking the
>rails, shaking the night, shaking the stalled day coach.
>"All the railroad cars there were in the whole country, all the
>railroad cars there were in the whole world, going down to death.
>Like black dominoes on wheels, like litmus paper cut-outs against the
>stars. Not a light, not a glimpse of the thousands of already dead
>they were packed with; and all the more awful for that.
>"The war, the war. The madness of the whole universe."
>It is a classic Woolrich over-the-top digression that few writers
>would attempt because it is difficult to bring off and so easy to
>look silly. The scene should be read in full to judge it accurately
>and I recognize that some might consider it purple nonsense. But it
>blew me away when I first read it many years ago and retains its
>power for me now.
>Richard Moore
>RARA-AVIS home page:
>Yahoo! Groups Links

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 04 Mar 2008 EST