RARA-AVIS: The Birth of Silly Noir

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 14 Jun 2009

  • Next message: Allan Guthrie: "Re: RARA-AVIS: The Birth of Silly Noir"

    Al wrote:

    > I'm no reviewer or critic, although I did try for a while. It was
    > just too
    > hard and I was very bad at it. ... I don't expect
    > anyone else to agree with me. It's just my opinion.

    Which is presented honestly. I don't have to agree with your opinion
    -- or anyone's -- to respect it. If it's well-argued and heart-felt, I have to respect that.

    > I'm currently reading
    > Alfred Jarry,... I'm fairly sure you'd
    > rip to pieces for his vulgarity, childishness, lack of realism, etc,
    > (all
    > undeniably true) ... Jarry may
    > well be considered a vat of crap by many critics, but without him,
    > there
    > would be no theatre of the absurd, or even worse, no Monty Python
    > (speaking
    > of the vulgar, the childish, and the unrealistic).

    I'm a big Monty Python fan myself (and maybe the over-educated eggheads in the Flying Circus were indeed inspired by this Jarry cat), yet the excesses in Flexer's book didn't strike me as being funny. Or at least intentionally so.

    Instead, I feel the humour is being used to justify its excesses. Mostly after the fact, because THE DISASSEMBLED MAN certainly wasn't originally presented to me as comedy.

    Sort of the same way I was informed that one of your last books shouldn't be judged as serious noir either, but as Jacobean parody or something. Not that that's how it was originally (or even subsequently) promoted, of course.

    Monty Python was never billed as serious drama. It wore its silliness proudly and right out in the open, like a penguin on the telly. I don't think many people were encouraged to view it as serious drama.

    Maybe if THE DISASSEMBLED MAN and other books of its ilk were billed as spoof or satire or send-up right up front I might view them more charitably. But there's not a big campaign by its practitioners to confess to their intentional silliness or to have their work filed in the comedy section.

    Because, of course, "they mean it, maaaaaannnnn!"

    Until, of course, someone takes them at their word.

    Could it be the humour tag is a salve applied to some books' "excesses and indulgences" as a defence against charges of, well, excess and indulgence?

    > The line you quoted from the Flexer book
    > about the protagonist's nervous fart -- I thought that was perfect
    > comic
    > timing that also sold me on him -- his weaknesses were all manifested
    > physically, which worked for me and didn't for you.

    To me, he went to that well far too often, with increasingly diminishing affect. Belch. Fart. Shit. Piss. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

    Oh, the hilarity.

    But I agree. What was a turn-off for me might be a turn-on for others. Which is why I joked about some of my (carefully edited) comments being used as blurbs for Flexer's next book.

    Like, for example:

    "... like watching a grown man playing with his own turds... a turn- on ..." Kevin Burton Smith

    > You thought the fart was
    > vulgar and unnecessary and made you dislike the protagonist

    No, there was never much to like about the character to begin with. Not that I have to like a character to enjoy him of course, but one of the turning off points for me in so much of the new noir/neo nah I read is the dearth of credible characters. Or even interesting ones.

    There's more cardboard in the characters than in the covers these days in some of these books.

    Most of the classics of noir fiction that I loved were character- driven; too much of the new stuff trying to pass itself off as noir is driven by self-conscious shock-and-awe tactics. Without credible characters, the only way to defend such excess IS by playing the humour card.

    "Gee, dude, chill. It's not supposed to be taken seriously, man. It's supposed to be FUNNY."

    I never bought Frankie Avicious at all. He seemed too much a fictional construct. But viewed as a character in a 214-page comedy skit, he does make a certain amount of sense.
    > I thought it showed the protagonist's character in an
    > effective and peculiarly demonstrative way, and the fact that people
    > don't
    > do that was exactly the point the author was making: only a lunatic
    > would
    > take a leak on a tyre to cool it down.

    I coulda sworn it was a steering wheel he pissed on, because it was too hot to touch. Maybe it was changed from the ARC you read.

    > You can't judge someone's sensitivity by how they write a work of
    > fiction...

    No? You wouldn't know it by some of the posturing and posing that some authors (and readers) take so seriously. Authors posing with guns and fedoras and leather jackets and stressing their "street creds" and day jobs and all that other silliness -- obviously a lot of people think that their writing is a true and honest reflection of the author.

    Look how many people take Ellroy seriously. And look how hard he works to be the character they think he is. But if it's all farce...

    > Still,
    > a very professional response from Flexer.

    I thought so too. And why I'm keeping an eye on him. A better editor, a better publisher, a bit more attention to real people, a little less genre-parody and he could be a contender. Maybe one day he may even write a straight crime novel.

    And when he does, some truth in advertising might help.

    Maybe all these new books that truck in cartoon characters and over- the-top excess and compulsive comparisons to Jim Thompson should be labelled "silly noir" right off the bat to clear up any miscomprehension.

    And so clueless critics like myself won't take them so seriously.

    > I think it was Ed Gorman who mentioned that a book without blurbs
    > looks
    > pretty bare. That's exactly right, and while you can fill some of
    > that space
    > for a sophomore effort with reviews for the debut (hopefully), a
    > blurb is
    > pretty much the best you can do for the first book. And of course it
    > should
    > come down to the writing. In an ideal world, all book jackets would be
    > uniformly white except for the title and even the author's name
    > would be
    > absent, and then it really would be down to the writing. But the
    > book has to
    > get sold first before someone reads it. So how it looks matters --
    > nice
    > cover design, good jacket copy, attractive author photo, good pull
    > quotes,
    > author blurbs, they all help sell the book. And in the current
    > climate,
    > publishers are looking to get all the help they can.

    Oh, I understand the need for blurbs. I just wish they were more honest and helpful. Too many of them are hollow sound bites that just fill up cover space.

    "One of the funniest books of the year," "a tongue-in-cheek shotgun blast of noir excess" or "a stone-cold classic of silly noir" would have been more useful than some of the blurbs and PR for THE DISASSEMBLED MAN that I received.

    "Silly Noir," folks. You heard it here first.

    Kevin Burton Smith http://thrillingdetectiveblog.blogspot.com
    "I blog; therefore I am."

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