RARA-AVIS: Re: Urban Fiction

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 05 Jan 2009

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    nJohn wrote:

    > I'm kind of a late passenger on the Dennis Lehane train, but his
    > Boston is
    > most certainly urban and not particularly black

    My mini-rant was more in regards to the tag "urban" used as a euphemism for black, and particularly as it refers to fiction. Not just crime, there's also a burgeoning sub-genre of "urban" romance, by writers like Zane and Nikki Turner. I work in a bookstore -- this stuff just flies off the shelves. Hell, sometimes we even manage to sell a few copies.

    Certainly most hard-boiled crime features an urban setting, but few people would tag, say, THE MALTESE FALCON as "urban fiction," as the term is understood today. Even though almost all the action takes place within a relatively small area, most of the settings within walking distance of each other.

    And as someone pointed out, much of the writing in so-called "urban" fiction is, well, not exactly gonna set the world on fire. But what really galls me is the utter predictability of the plots and stereotypes, and the thoroughly unflattering cliched portraits of almost every character, regardless of race, in them. Hmmm... maybe I'm turning into Bill Cosby.

    After the rich, varied and complex depiction of "urban" life in the work of people like Walter Mosley, George Pelecanos, Gary Phillips, David Simon, Richard Price and Gar Haywood (or historical predecessors like Chester Himes or even Donald Goines or, hell, Ernest Tidyman), it's difficult to feel much sympathy for -- or be entertaining by the adventures of some two-dimensional thug and his one-dimensional and predictable posse of hos and corner boys.

    And the plots? There are less predictable story arcs on the EKG of a coma victim. Or the TV news.


    Kevin Burton Smith www.thrillingdetective.com

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