The Best American Noir of the Century

The Kindle is like crack. Every day I get an email with the “Deal of the Day,” and every day I need to figure out how I am going to resist. It isn’t the money – these books go from ninety nine cents up to, say four bucks. It isn’t the space, either. My Kindle can hold a small library in its memory and what it won’t hold Amazon will store out in the clouds. It’s simply time. There are too many books and life is too short and time is running out too fast.

Sometimes, though, I can’t resist. I buy and I read.

One temptation given in to was a big book that came in for a one-day sale… I think it was $1.99 or so.

I love big, thick anthologies of short stories. Especially with time so short and life so mixed-up and confusing, the ability to scrape up a few spare minutes and read a whole story – complete in and of itself – no remembering galaxies of characters, confused clusters of settings, and subtle plot threads that weave and waft through the delicate tapestry of a novel… one shot, simple, fast, powerful. Give me a tome with twenty or thirty or more of these miniature jewels and I’m a happy camper.

The buck ninety-nine deal came in over the ether for purchase of the Best American Noir of the Century. Couldn’t resist – hit the “buy with one click” button and it was mine.

Reading it took a little longer. It had 39 stories, so it took a few days to plow through. The stories covered about 83 years and were in chronological order. Noir isn’t really a genre, more like an attitude, and you could feel how the stories changed over time.

The book is 800 pages… which made me glad that it was only some bits stored in the Kindle memory. That’s a lot lighter.

There is a lot of criticism of this anthology… mostly concerning the meaning of the term Noir. A lot of folks take Noir to be a hardboiled detective novel. They are disappointed because, although there are some classics in the collection, it takes a broader view of Noir and includes some stories with supernatural elements and other borderline tales.

That’s fine with me. I was surprised to find that I liked some of the more offbeat, longer, and modern riffs. I recommend the anthology highly… it’s the kind of thing you will like if you like that kind of thing.

Like any group of thirty nine tales, the offerings can be a little uneven. Some folks will like stories I didn’t… but here are a few that stood out in my mind:

Harlan Ellison: 1993: Mefisto in Onyx – Harlan Ellison, not surprisingly, comes up with a loose, weird, caterwauling tale that isn’t what it seems to be and then it turns out not to be that either. Surprising and entertaining.

Ed Gorman: 1995: Out There in the Darkness – Inspired the book and film, “The Poker Club.” The opposite of Mefisto in Onyx… a tale of four ordinary guys, folks you know and love trapped in a cycle of escalating violence.

Elmore Leonard: 2002: When The Women Come Out to Dance – Fantastic tale about a relationship between two women that turns out to be the opposite of what it seems.

Christopher Coake: 2003: All Through the House – One of the best stories I’ve read in a while. A unique structure, told in a series of short, clear scenes in reverse chronological order. Despite it descending into the past, every new section brings an unknown revelation. At the end, you are left devastated by what you know will come to destroy the innocent doomed characters.

Steve Fisher: 1938 You’ll Always Remember Me – Probably my favorite of the older works. A classic Noir.

Joyce Carol Oates: 1997: Faithless – A dark tale that, not surprisingly, reads like the best literature.

Oh, and there is a lot more, famous authors: James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane, Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke. Each story is prefaced with a biography of the author – these can be as great a revelation as the fiction.

It makes me want to read more from some of these folks. Thats more like heroin.

2 responses to “The Best American Noir of the Century

  1. My mother-in-law has like 1000 books on her Kindle at any one time. I can only handle a handfull — the stories start running together. I can’t really afford to buy stuff so I peruse the free stuff….once in a while there is a gem but a lot more times than I’d like….painful offerings! Get what you don’t pay for lol.

    • I work on keeping my collections organized so I can handle the large number of books on my device. I agree – other than the classics, the free stuff is pretty iffy. I’ve bought some great stuff on those daily sales though.

      Thanks for the comment!

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