--- In email@example.com, Kevin Burton Smith <kvnsmith@...> wrote:
> Hmmm.... it's been a while since I read them, but I think the two
> books you cite do have a sort of "fall from Grace" aspect to them,
> which would suggest that there was, at least at one point, somewhere
> to fall from (besides a hay truck). That both Frank and Walter fall
> anyway doesn't deny the existence of some sort of moral truth --
> merely that they don't measure up or are too weak (or horny) to
> resist. So I'm not entirely convinced these two book are completely
> nihilistic -- just not very optimistic, at least for these particular
In Double Indemnity, Walter Huff is enticed to commit murder partly for the money, partly for Phyllis, but mostly for the challenge to see if he can get away with it--I'd say that's nihilistic as opposed to someone stumbling into the abyss. Once the murder is committed and he discovers Phyllis's true depths, Huff does try to fix things, but the die has already been set. And the ending is quite a nihilistic vision. Brilliant ending, really.
In Postman, Frank and Nora conspire to kill Nora's husband Nick for the money and so they can be together, even though Nick has befriended Frank and has treated Nora well. The end is where the nihilistic vision takes hold as their love devolves into a series of threats of betrayal, and then the final test.
Cain did write the more tragic, moral noir, such as Serenade and Love's Lovely Counterfeit.
Thompson wrote both purely nihilistic noir (Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280, The Getaway), and the more tragic noir (Hell of a Woman, Savage Night, Swell-Looking Babe, After Dark My Sweet).
Willeford's Grimhaven matches Killer Inside Me for its nihilistic view as the protagonist rejects all social and moral conventions for his own twisted set of conduct
Jason Starr's Twisted City is also what I would consider nihilistic noir--it's not about the protagonist's fall from grace but unmasking his true depths, and there's no moral center in this one.
So when we talk about writers like James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, they've written both flavors that you've been trying to characterize--fall from grace and nihilistic. I've read most of Willeford, and I'm having a hard time coming up with any "fall from grace" type noir from him, and would put him clearly in the nihilistic category. Similarly the books I've read from Jason also far squarely in this more nihilistic category.
While I enjoy almost any well-written noir, the books that I've written that critics have categorized as noir tend to fall squarely in the "fall from grace" category. Fast Lane, for example, follows a protagonists stumble into the abyss, and most critics on reviewing Small Crimes commented on the book being a very moral one, and at it's core it'ss about a character's failed attempt for redemption Pariah, I'm not sure which camp it falls in, but then again, I'd call it more a crime novel than noir. We'll see what the critics say...
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