RARA-AVIS: Random Notes On Redemtion

From: James Michael Rogers (jeddak5@cox.net)
Date: 03 Sep 2009

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      Since we've been on a high-faulutin' kick lately, what with talk of Pynchon and Nobels and Pulitzers, I thought I'd throw out a half-conceived question.

    I'm sure we all have been in situations where we are asked about "good" writers and are made to feel like dullards because we dig crime fiction and, as all right minded folks know, that is just sensationalistic genre junk. If you're anything like me your default comeback line is "Well, what about Dostoyevsky then? Is that just genre junk? It is sensational, but how does that detract?"

    Without Dostoyevsky, I don't think you get to any Celine, any Jim Thompson, or any Charles Willeford. Certainly you don't get to James M. Cain.

     What Dostoyevsky adds though, and the HB guys avoid, is any redemptive note. _Brothers Karamozov_ and _Crime And Punishment_, though as dark as one gets have sort of happy endings (Sort of. In the mystical, Catholic sense).

    But in the case of just about all of the big guns of hard-boiled fiction, that note is unsounded. Marlowe ( and his imitators) is always personally injured by his solution of the case. Ned Beaumont gets the girl, but at a horrible price. Thompson and Cain (the most Dostoyevskian) speak for themselves. No light anywhere.

    So I guess the question is...."Is this a strength or a weakness in HB fiction?" I suppose that this came up for me because I was re-reading John Gardner's book _On Moral Fiction_ in which he suggests that too much focus on the ugliest aspects of experience diminishes the writers respect for the human condition ( I think this was what james Ellroy was getting at when he said Tarantino's movies were "childish"). I'm inclined to agree with him, on balance, yet that doesn't reduce the emotional power of the authors I just mentioned.

    Like I say, this is kind of a half-baked notion of mine and maybe a boring one. But I'd be interested to hear what, if anything, you guys think.



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