RE: RARA-AVIS: Re: Slapstick-Silly Noir

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 16 Jun 2009

  • Next message: davezeltserman: "RARA-AVIS: Re: Slapstick-Silly Noir"

    Kevin wrote:
    "But you might ask yourself why so much of what's billed as "noir" these days has to be read as "humour." I think that's an interesting development, and worthy of discussion on this list." Well, Kevin, it doesn't have to be read at all.

    But I agree that labeling and its impact on our reading is well worth discussing. And in that light, let me respond to your earlier response to me:"There's so much of this stuff out there right now, it's hard to figure out who wants their book to be taken seriously, and who wants their book to be taken as a cartoon. And who wants their book to be taken seriously even though their writing's unintentionally funny."Do writer's intentions matter when we're reading? Should they? You joked about not having read a blog, so you didn't know how you were supposed to take a book. I agree with you, at least with what I think you're implying, that we shouldn't have to do research before reading a book. While I am interested in the intentions of some of my favorite authors, I only became interested after having read their books. I wanted to know what was behind a book that had moved me."Sometimes absurd is absurd. And sometimes it's really just bad writing."True, but here we're getting into taste and "one man's trash is another man's treasure." For instance, as I've said, I haven't read Flexer, but I have read another book that got good blurb and blog, Tom Piccirilli's Fever Kill. I didn't much like it, thought it was seat of the pants writing, overblown, ridiculous and an unintentional parody. The writing technique was good, but
      I did not buy the characters or the plot for a second. But many others have praised it. On the other hand, I thought his The Cold Spot was absolutely great and looked forward to the follow up, The Coldest Mile. I just finished that -- didn't like it nearly as much as The Cold Spot, and I'd buy that it was cobbled together from three installments if this were the old days, but still thought it was solid work.Anyway, taste certainly plays into all of this. And I think the best a reviewer can do is make his or her taste clear so I will have some idea about how much my taste aligns with the reviewer's and buy (or not) accordingly. For what it's worth, I think you, Al and Dave all make your taste clear and I've successfully taken recommendations from all of you.

    "People have been passing this stuff off as noir for years."Here I've got to part with you. Do you really think this stuff is not noir? Even though you think it's terrible, your description still makes it sound noir to me. How is it not noir? Is it simply due to the humor, the parody? Is noir only noir if it's deadly serious? In that case, Pop 1280 can't be noir. Comparably, is Prather not hardboiled because he's playing it for laughs?"But don't mock and laugh at their cardboard characters or ridiculous plots or their shock-and-awe excesses. Unless they tell you to."But must you be told? Granted, if you as a reader cannot tell if a scene or a whole book is to be taken seriously or not, there is a problem."I wish they'd put as much effort into their characters as they put into their rape and dismemberment fantasies, . . ."I think some of them do. For instance, I understand why some people would have problems with the cat torture scene in Caught Stealing and how some o
     f the over the top violence in it and the rest of the trilogy would put people off, maybe even make them stop reading, but Hank Thompson is a fully realized character. Same with Al's Pearce and Bruen's Brant and company. Many of the situations are ridiculous and the violence is excessive and often played for laughs, but they make them work in the context of their characters' world. As I noted elsewhere, I'm far less convinced by, or interested in Steve Aylett's world. It's all a matter of verisimilitude for me. They are sometimes absurd characters, but they fit into their absurd worlds. And as over the top as these are, they are still noir in my book."Or trying to write in a tradition they can't really pull off and so resort to parody?"If so, good luck to them -- good parody is probably harder to write well than the tradition itself. You really have to understand a genre to do a parody (as opposed to just ridiculing stylistic traits, which some try to pass off as paro

    "How many books can you write parodying the same sub-genre over and over?"How many parodies have been written of PIs? And I know you are a fan of some of those -- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, for instance?"I'm told something's noir, I sort of know what to expect. Or I used to."But why do you need to be told what to expect? And why should a writer be limited by readers' expectations? Ideally, I want to read a book that exceeds my expectations."But this stuff, with its obsessions with torture and mutilation and excrement and and all that seems pretty far removed from what I used to expect noir to be: dark, gritty, nuanced tales of people circling the drain. Now it's a bad Saturday Night Live skit with the June Taylor Dancers (and chainsaws)."You keep saying "this stuff" and implying a new genre or movement, but your only example is Disassembled Man. Aren't you really only talking about one book you disliked? What other titles would you place in the movement? Do you dislike them f
     or the same reasons? Is your problem with premise or execution? In the case of this one book, it seems to be both, but what about the movement you claim?"Ah, but there's the rub. When it's done poorly, it's hard to tell if it's supposed to be funny or not."True, but that's just execution, which is as much an issue in non-humorous noir. Lot of bad straight noir out there, too, but I don't see you damning all noir for the work of the bad writers."If I was told to take them as dead-serious crime fiction, though, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed them as much."Do you really take writers' word about their own works? If you did, you'd have to believe it was all either the best or worst thing ever written. You brought up Ellroy's shtick elsewhere. Do you take his word on his books?

    "Who do you guys recommend as some of the best current writers of Slapstick-Silly Extreme Noir?"I've nominated mine: Huston, Guthrie, Williams, Bruen's Brant novels (though he can write straight noir, too, and I have no problem telling the difference between them), Bruen/Starr (though the most recent was pushing believability a bit, even within the bounds of the book's world).Mark

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