Ed here: Over on Rara-Avis Kevin Smith put voice to something I've been feeling for quite awhile. That I relate less and less to a lot of it. Kevin makes the point that too much of it ignores the noir traditions of the past. While I agree with that to some extent, I also feel that too much of it is parodistic in nature, feeding on what came before rather than extending and enhancing it, a literary exercise that is essentially black comedy. But like the irony of the eighties and nineties a good deal of black comedy wears thin and rarely wears well. Make no mistake. The crime novel has to go in different directions. It was starting to get moribund over the last few years. But many of the new crime novels put me off to the degree that I know read traditional mysteries rather than many new hardboiled ones. In my case this may be simple age. If I had to name two writers who are doing something different with crime fiction I'd list Terrill Lankford and Jason Starr. Both of them write novels of substance and depth. Nothing flashy for the sake of flash. They're interested in life not in term paper novels that are sarcastic takes on what has gone before. I expect both Kevin and I can expect lynch mobs soon.
From Kevin: (I've edited a long piece down to several paragraphs):
After reading a spate of recent books by some of the more highly
touted practitioners of the "new noir," I've noticed something.
Not in all of them, mind you, but in enough of them to be disturbed
by what seems to be a trend. I hope not. Maybe I just hit a bad
string of books (and no, i don't want to name them). But...
Many of these books have increasingly little to do with the classic
noir films and novels their authors all claim to adore so much (but
may have never actually read).
If the original noirs were usually about normal -- or at least
identifiable characters -- being drawn into the darkness, that's long
gone. So many of the recent noirs I've read are populated by amoral
sociopaths who are already plenty dark.
Nowadays, though, the characters are more often big shot celebrities
or serial killers or globetrotting hit men or cannibal dope fiends or
the like, over-the-top sociopathic cartoons who seem to exist mostly
in books. And these guys are usually criminally clueless. These books
aren't presented as morality plays, but as clusterfucks of stupidity
and venality. These characters come pre-doomed and pre-damned; these
dumbfucks make one obviously bad choice after another -- the sort of
stupid choices that owe more to plot machinations than anything.
What happens to them isn't some slow, inevitable tragic fall from
grace into the darkness of the abyss, but more a turned-to-eleven
amplification of atrocities and bad luck, betrayals and
misunderstandings and coincidences that, again, only exist in
fiction. Certainly, things are more graphic and there's far more
obscene language, violence and sex than in the old noirs, which is to
be expected, I guess. But so much of it just seems so strained and
self-conscious; like a bunch of little boys trying to out-do each
other. These neo-noirs aren't presented as tragedy at all, but as
comedy of the cruelest sort, the "grown-up" equivalent of slipping a
frog down a girl's back.
And what's with all the torture and mutilation going on? Is Cheyney
secretly moonlighting as an acquisition editor?
I may be imagining this, but it seems to me that there's also a
growing contempt among the authors for their own characters, a kind
of mean-spiritedness that's creeping in -- a condescending sort of
self-righteous authorial stance being adapted that says "Yeah,
they're all scumbags, so I make them go through all kinds of shit.
The old noir characters, whatever their flaws, had souls of some
sort. Hell, the books themselves had soul, and you got the sense that
the authors -- and readers -- cared about these characters on at
least some level. The characters who inhabit this cynical new breed
of noir too often are unlikable two-dimensional cardboard cutouts who
exist only to be put through their paces by an author with one hand
down his (or her) pants for the edification of his like-minded buddies.
All the meanness and carnage of these soulless wallows comes off more
like pornography than noir, at least to me.
Makes me wonder who's getting off on it.