straight down the line

Further Readings in Noir Fiction

In this weeks further readings of noir fiction, I started off with “The Postman Always RIngs Twice.”

Our protagonist and antihero, Frank, stumbles into a restaurant and the desperate owner, Nick (called the Greek by Frank), hires him on the spot. Frank soon dives into an affair with Cora, the Greek’s wife and femme fatale of the story. She came to California expecting to be swept up in a life of glamour, but ended up poor and too embarrassed to go home. She married Nick, not for love, but to live comfortably. But with Frank she had love and passion. The two of them came up with a plan to kill the Greek and run the restaurant themselves, but their initial plan failed due to a blackout. They try again much later by getting Nick drunk and staging a car crash. In the end they avoid punishment and things seem to be working out, until they get in a real car accident and Cora dies. After the deaths of Cora and Nick, it makes Frank look too suspicious, and he’s sentenced to death. They got what was coming to them. I kind of hated both Cora and Frank as much as Leysa did.  I can see how the dark themes, crime, and dialogue style put it in the noir category, but I really don’t think it was good enough that it deserved to be in the modern library top 100 novels list.

Next I read the Hemingway story, “Killers,” and was a tad disappointed. I’d heard so many great things about Hemingway, so maybe it was my fault for having hopes that were too high, but the ending didn’t feel right. It starts off in a diner at night. I’ve noticed noir is almost always at night; I guess because the night is just cooler and more mysterious. Anyway these too guys show up and wait in the diner for this guy who always eats at the diner because they want to kill him, and when he doesn’t show, they leave. Then somebody from the diner goes to warn the guy they were trying to kill. and then nothing else happens. They just kinda leave it at ‘oh well nothing we can do about your death is inevitable.’ It left me feeling unwhole; I think it’s an author’s job to tie up the plot, either kill him or give him a way out. Hemingway can’t just leave the reader hanging. It breaks the unspoken contract between the writer and the reader that says they will give you a finished story.

Last was “The Shadow: Death Triangle.”  Like some other people in the class I managed to find an audio recording of the radio show that I could listen to while I read. At that point I’d read so much noir I thought I wouldn’t be able to focus without the audio. The first two readings had disappointed me a bit and I wasn’t expecting much from this one. Then I was surprised. There were likeable characters, a solid plot, and justice in the end. And it fit so perfectly into noir; there was darkness and murder and deception, along with a mysterious unknown detective who had a beef with crime.

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