RARA-AVIS: Re: Disturbing Novels

From: Mark D. Nevins ( nevins_mark@yahoo.com)
Date: 30 Jun 2008

I'll second Dave Z.'s nomination of DOUBLE INDEMNITY for the "disturbing novels" contest. I recently read this book for the first time, and it really is a small, lean, and ultimately almost surreally nasty masterpiece.

I was reminded as I was reading DOUBLE INDEMNITY of the RARA-AVIS debate a while back about the definition of "noir." DOUBLE INDEMNITY may be the best single example I could offer of a noir novel: it starts out very sunny and matter-of-fact, and then gradually the narrator gets caught in a vortex of passions in which bad decisions lead to worse decisions, and in some disturbingly dreamlike way he is suddenly at a horrifying point of no return . . . .

As I have admitted, I'm still a crime fiction newbie, catching up on the classics as well as the more recent books, so I may be overestimating the uniqueness of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I'd love to hear reactions or corrections if that's the case. I sure didn't expect the trajectory of the novel based on the film, but now I want to watch the film again. The effect of the ending of DOUBLE INDEMNITY is remarkable--the only thing I could liken it to would be some of the more extreme Jacobean revenge tragedies, e.g., THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY or 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE.

Another shocking scene (if not novel) that I came across recently was the murder scene early in J. D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novel A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD. The novel is fairly conventional, but that scene in the hotel room was vividly grisly in a way most of those kinds of scenes tend not to be.

Best, Mark Nevins

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