Monday, May 31, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

You could feel the excitement of it.
And that's why they came,
to get some of that excitement,
to take the ante, big or little,
and pitch it against the house,
to double it, triple it, multiply it
a thousand times if they could.
It was sticky and hot and grim
in Sacramento.
It was crowded and stifling
in Chinatown,
lonely for the oldster
in the Mission
routine and empty for the widow
in the Portola.
But the lights were on
in Reno.
James McKimmey
Winner Take All

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Review: Ryu Murakami, Audition (1997)

Aoyama is a widower whose teenage son suggests that it might be time for him to remarry. When Aoyama mentions this possibility to a friend who works in in the film industry, the friend hatches a scheme to find Aoyama an attractive young wife quickly: They will launch a phony film production and will interview aspiring actresses for the nonexistent lead role. Despite his initial reservations, Ayoama goes along with this plan, succumbing to the fantasy of "himself surrounded by ten or twelve lovely, intelligent, refined young ladies." As in a traditional American noir of the 1950s, in which an ordinary guy in dire financial straits cannot resist the temptation of easy money, Aoyama has cast his lot and will face unpleasant consequences. While these American noirs are sometimes read as commentaries on the American Dream (promised to all, attainable to some),
Audition seems a commentary on the situation of young women in Japan and the willingness of a decent man such as Aoyama to treat them like fruit in a supermarket. Grade: B

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review: James M. Cain, Serenade (1937)

The following review contains spoilers . . . if you do not want to know the general contours of
Serenade's plot, read no further . . . Opera singer John Howard Sharp is a self-loathing homosexual who wants to believe he is like any other man. At one point he protests that all men are 5% gay but that most men are fortunate enough not to meet that special someone who triggers that 5%. Unfortunately for John, he has met that special someone, and it turns out that homosexual activity has the little-known side effect of ruining a man's ability to sing. Therefore, John takes drastic measures, raping his way back into the world of heterosexuality and thereby reclaiming his singing voice. When his rape victim falls in love with him, all seems right with his world, until his gay ex-lover turns out to be an effete but vengeful predator. A regrettable novel in many ways . . . worth reading only as a period piece. Grade: D+

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

They dangle it
in front of you
then when you
reach for it,
they yell.
I wondered if
she would yell.
Gil Brewer

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

A baby will bite and strike,
and a baby of this size
could be rather painful.
But the danger is
mainly to himself.
You know.
Might masturbate himself raw,
or eat his own excrement.
Things of that kind.
Jim Thompson
The Alcoholics

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Note: Mark D. West, Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States (2007)

I loved Mark D. West's previous book,
Law in Everyday Japan: Sex, Sumo, Suicide, and Statutes, and this one did not disappoint. Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle: The Rules of Scandal in Japan and the United States is a scholarly yet accessibly entertaining analysis of what qualifies as scandal in each culture and how each culture deals with the aftermath. Neither of West's books is particularly noirish, but if you're a fan of Japanese noir, his work will enrich your understanding of Japanese culture and deepen your appreciation of Japanese fiction.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

Fear wasn't a jagged split of light cleaving you;
fear wasn't a cold fist in your entrails;
fear wasn't something you could face
and demolish with your arrogance.
Fear was the fog, creeping about you,
winding its tendrils about you,
seeping into your pores and flesh and bone.
Fear was a girl whispering a word
over and over again,
a small word you refused to hear,
although the whisper was a scream in your ears,
a dreadful scream you could never forget.
You heard it over and again
and the fog was a ripe red veil
you could not tear away from your eyes.
Dorothy B. Hughes
In a Lonely Place

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Carny noir classic back in print!

When I recently gave my list of all-time favorite noir novels, I noted to myself that only 5 of the 10 were currently in print in the U.S. I am pleased to report that that number has just risen to 6 with the NYRB Classics reissue of William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 masterpiece of carny noir, Nightmare Alley. Buy it!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Book Review: Erskine Caldwell, The Bastard (1929)

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, William Faulkner warned of the writer who "labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands." In The Bastard, Erskine Caldwell writes of the glands. Viewed through the lens of noir history, Caldwell's debut novel seems a precursor to the episodic realism practiced by P. J. Wolfson and Don Tracy in their novels of the early 1930s, but Caldwell's characters are, if anything, even more unrepentantly savage. Perhaps Gene Morgan, The Bastard's title character, is meant to have our sympathy, yet he thinks nothing of raping a young runaway who is being held in the local jail. In this world of the glands, such events are treated as so unremarkable that when we finally get a glimpse of Gene's heart, we cannot help but wonder if it is a gland in disguise. Noir doom is often driven by the glands. Grade: B+

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pulp Poem of the Week

It was like
heat rash.
You knew when
you had it.
Gil Brewer
Wild to Possess

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review: Charles Ardai, Fifty-to-One (2008)

The fiftieth title from Hard Case Crime is self-indulgently amusing noir lite. Author/publisher Charles Ardai explains the impulse behind Fifty-to-One: "to write a 50th book that would commemorate the (fictitious) 50th anniversary of the founding of Hard Case Crime, set 50 years ago, and to tell the story in 50 chapters, with each chapter bearing the title of one of our 50 books, in their order of publication." What makes this a real challenge, of course, is that each chapter is connected in some to way its title, and Ardai can hardly be blamed for doing what he must with the plot to pull it off. One downside to this template is that Fifty-to-One's required 50 chapters result in 329 pages, which is about 100 pages longer than the book's backflipping gimmickry can hope to sustain. It's a good thing that Ardai got this out of this system now, rather than waiting for Hard Case Crime #100. Grade: C