Friday, May 02, 2008

Charlotte Armstrong

On her always informative blog The Bunburyist tonight Elizabeth Foxwell celebrates the birthday of Charlotte Armstrong, who died far too young and at the peak of her popularity.

While I can't say that I cared for all of Armstrong's work, novels such as Mischief (which became an solid movie ("Don't Bother To Knock") with Richard Widmark and a very young Marilyn Monroe) and numerous short stories makes me regard her an an extremely accomplished writer.

Jan Burke described Armstrong's fiction as "suburban noir." I think that's what her best work is exactly. Elizabeth says,
"And such novels as The Chocolate Cobweb (1948), The Balloon Man (1968), and The Unsuspected (1946; an entry on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list)."

For me--and I want to emphasize the short stories as much as the novels--there's a real sense of menace, even doom in her material. In her later work she dealt with troubled young people in much the same way that Ross Macdonald did. She exposed the secrets of necktie husbands and wounded wives.

She also had a great sense of strange houses and the people who lived in them. When she wasn't examining suburbia she was looking at lace curtain lives--people who seemed respectable but who were without means. In this she reminded me of some of Dolores Hitchens' stand-alones such as Stairway To An Empty Room. Desperate women without funds or connections.

I may be wrong about this but I think both Armstrong and Hitchens owe a good deal to Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. I don't think either ever achieved Holding's artistry. And certainly neither of them at their darkest came close to Holding's claustrophobic darkness.

But the best of Armstrong needs to be brought back. She was a wily storyteller and a compassionate voice for outsiders of all kinds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Charlotte Armstrong's book, "The Trouble in Thor", has been adapted for a stage version that will be presented on October 4, 2008 in Norway, Michigan, just miles from where she grew up. The play is a part of the Charlotte Armstrong Festival. The stage play was scripted by Gail Galotta, who will also direct it. Gail has written an original stage play, "Crossroads".