Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Best American Noir of the Century

Title: The Best American Noir of the Century
Author: Otto Penzler, editor

Genre: Fiction (Noir - Short Stories )

Love/Hate?: Nearly love.
Rating: 4/5
Did I finish?: Ish.  I read about half the stories, skimmed the others.
One-sentence summary: Forty American noir stories from the last century.

Why did I get this book?: One giant collection of noir?!  Sign me up!
Source: NetGalley

Do you like the cover?: Eh.  The image doesn't exactly make sense to me; it looks like an ad image for secretary school, not a volume of noir.

Did... I feel "repulsed and titillated" while reading this, as James Ellroy claimed I would?: YES.  Forget horror, noir is the best way to get a chill up one's spine!

Did... I find myself crushing on all the wrong people?: YES.  There's something so deadly sexy about a good femme fatale!

Did... I feel very grateful that I had this as an e-book edition?: YES, mostly.  At 731 pages, I wouldn't have been able to carry a hard copy around on my commute, but this is the kind of book that begs to be held and thumbed through.

Review: A solid collection of noir short stories, picked by Otto Penzler, introduced by James Ellroy.  In his 'Foreward', Penzler defines 'noir'; by his definition, private eyes such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe do not belong in the noir genre, and as such, both Hammett and Chandler aren't included in this collection.  (I disagree with Penzler's definition but I guess he knows more than me!)  Still, for anyone interested in noir, this is a perfect place to start.

The stories are ordered chronologically by publication date, beginning in 1923 and ending in 2007.  It's a nice way to read through the collection and see how the genre has developed and changed.  Each story is prefaced with a bio about the author; I was amazed at how many of these authors or stories have a Hollywood connection.

Some of the highlights include the opening story, 'Spurs', which was the basis for the film Freaks; 'The Homecoming' by Dorothy B. Hughes, one of the first female writers of noir; 'Faithless', a piece by Joyce Carol Oates that manages to be creepy and literary and really, really good; and 'What She Offered' by Thomas H. Cook.

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