Re: RARA-AVIS: My last point on that topic, plus Hammett and Westlake

Date: 23 Feb 2009

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    Thanks Mark. I had fun writing it, though another quick edit wouldn't have hurt. I just found the rhetorical use of reality in a noir discussion, uh, well (it is not to be said here.)

    Coincidentally I too have just reread Red Harvest and am doing the same with The Dain Curse, at the same time dipping into the local library's stock of Starks for, believe it or not, light relief. I think similarities between Red Harvest and Miller's Crossing have been mentioned here before. Do I have that right?

    Regardless, it's been decades since I read these and I have to say I'm finding Hammett's vision of America extremely dystopian. My first readings were probably more for entertainment than cultural insight. Not that I should have expected otherwise after re-reading The Maltese Falcon a year or so ago.

    Best, Kerry

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Mark D. Nevins
      Sent: Sunday, February 22, 2009 2:15 PM
      Subject: RARA-AVIS: My last point on that topic, plus Hammett and Westlake

      Ron C., I'm sorry if I didn't in fact interpret your last post as a gesture of civility but, well, I really didn't. I don't need to speak with you off-List about it, thanks anyway.

      Kerry, I appreciated your ONIONesque satirical effort.

      All, I'm sorry if my last message was inappropriate. I am generally a lurker on this List, and I tremendously appreciate all of the wisdom and advice on offer here. I take copious notes on the reviews and recommendations; I admit I cringe at some of the bickering, flaming, and redundant semantic arguing; and I am apparently unable to restrain myself when I come across what I perceive to be sweeping generalizations and examples of prejudice, one example of which is the occasional anti-academic cliche which seems to have no place in a group like this one.

      In other news, I recently finished RED HARVEST, Hammett's first novel and the first in my project to (re-)read all of his novels in order. I understand that this book is a cobbling-together of several BLACK MASK short stories--and I expect eventually to go back and read those (are they easily found in a collection?). As such, there are some bumps in the narrative road, and a lot of characters come and go (emphasis on "go," where I mean "for good"), but ultimately this novel seems to me to be some kind of masterpiece of violence and cynical social commentary in addition to a cracking good read. I appreciate that RED HARVEST is also a cornerstone of the "cleaning up the corrupt town" genre that ranges from the spaghetti Western to the films of Kurosawa. (I wonder what work gets to claim to be the first in the genre. BEOWULF?) This was my first time reading RED HARVEST, and I loved it, especially the lean and tough dialogue and the incredible sense of
      time and place Hammett creates in "Poisonville" California. I also now know where the Coen Brothers got the title of their film BLOOD SIMPLE, and what it means! I'm looking forward to THE DAIN CURSE which is next in line.

      As a bit of a palate-cleanser, I read right afterward Donald Westlake's THE HOOK. I am planning to read one Westlake book a month this year, as an homage to the Master. (January was THE AX.) THE HOOK is a delightfully nasty little piece of candy: a satire on the publishing industry wrapped around a Hitchcockian infernal bargain. The book moves quickly, with great details to sketch out the NYC and CT locales, and it has one of the most brutal murder scenes I have ever read, as well as a clever and nasty ending that is perfectly timed to punch you in the gut just as you are halfway through the last sentence of the book. I really liked this one. Westlake makes it all look so effortless.

      Mark Nevins


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