RARA-AVIS: Re: Nag Nag Nag Noir

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@sbcglobal.net)
Date: 24 Jul 2009

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    Jim wrote:

    > This, in turn, led to the common, though mistaken, impression that a
    > noir novel is a novel trying to be like a film noir (although, in
    > some individual cases that may actually be true given the self-
    > referential times we live in), when, in fact, it was, historically,
    > the other way around, back when crime novelists were just trying to
    > tell compelling stories and didn't care what labels some publisher
    > or film critic on the other side of the Atlantic had slapped on them.

    This is another thing that separates then from now. Writers (and filmmakers, for that matter) are very conscious of working in a pre- existing genre.

    Self-conscious in some cases.

    Which may explain why there was so little "parody" of noir until recently. It's hard to spoof something you're not aware of.

    And also why some of the books seem so forced and the characters so flat and predictable: the writer's experience is based on books in the genre he's trying to emulate; not actual life experience or even research. Just other people's books. The characters are based on characters they've read a zillion times; not actual people. The low point for me was a heavy-handed novel somebody wanted me to excerpt on the site that involved an alcoholic, foul-mouthed, heavily-armed ex- cop (yawn) chasing a serial killer (yawn) protected by the mob (yawn) who is preying on hookers and strippers (yawn, yawn). It became painfully, almost hilariously obvious during one of the many sex scenes between the P.I. and the stripper with the heart of gold (yawn) that the writer was a complete virgin. Probably dreaming of one day speaking to a girl.

    (Granted, in another writer's hands, the same book mighta been a monster)

    By the way, it's disingenuous to pretend that "noir" is a word solely used by critics and publishers nowadays. A lot of writers have absolutely no problem describing themselves as noir writers, and more than a few would be very upset if they were told their stuff was "not noir."

    Certainly, I haven't heard of any writer here raising much of a fuss over people calling their work noir. Al may be the only one.


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