Monday, August 29, 2011

Hard Hat Area

At first you were thinking it was a boy thing; men writers going on in ways that sent you the subliminal message:  this text is written by a male.  But it didn't end there because you got it from a wide variety of women writers, sometimes writing about things that didn't matter if the subject was a man or not.

Then you began to think it had something significant to do with the noir point of view, but you were able to discover it in such un-noir writers as Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier, so it couldn't be all about noir, either.

The closest you could come to identifying the "it" was the suspense novel such as Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, or The Confidential Agent.  Toss in some Eric Ambler, say A Coffin for Dimitrios.  Even the crunchy narrative of LeCarre.  But how did that account for the ladies?

You've been rereading paragraphs of Louise Erdrich and Kate Atkinson and Denise Mina, looking for clues.  You were about fifteen pages into a reread of Daniel Woodrell's The Ones You Don't,when the new George Pelecanos, The Cut, arrived.  Maybe it was the Pelecanos that did it, perhaps it was the cumulative effect of all the sampling and thinking and looking.


What you think "it" is has nothing to do with gender or genre; rather it has to do with the writer's vision of the human agenda, his or her choice of characters who are driven over some relatively safe terrain and into what appears to be quicksand.  Although you were quick to catch traces of subtext in Jane Austen, it was not until you read her Persuasion that you saw how well she understood agenda and that gap between what a person says--or does not say--and what that individual truly wants.

Thus does noir blend into edge, characters who have for one reason or another, been out on the margins, bumped heads with cultural barriers and lost something they'd valued, perhaps without even knowing what it was they'd lost, perhaps even keeping some of their dreams apart from their awareness.

It is the story of the man or woman who has lost something they wanted more than they had wanted anything else so far.  Possible result of humiliation in there, too.  Now the character is recovered--somewhat, caught up in life again, but perhaps not by choice.

So you are drawn to the writers who, throughout their time, created characters who were set apart, on some tenuous border between emotions and circumstances that are shaky.  Uncertain.  Contingent.  They have the needs and the power to take us into dark places.  If we are unwilling to follow, we need to look for safer work. 

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