Thursday, May 29, 2008

A HELL OF A WOMAN edited by Megan Abbott

The Book: Megan Abbott, ed., A HELL OF A WOMAN: An Anthology of Female Noir. Busted Flush Press, 2007 (first edition). Signed by 9 contributors. Fine condition.
First read: 2007
Owned since: 2007

In Los Angeles for Book Expo America, staying with my friends Linda and Tim. Therefore, all posts for the next few days will be books both Linda and I own...

My closest friends tell me, with some regularity, that I am judgmental. I am. It's taken me 42 years, but I'm not going to apologize for it anymore.

Almost nothing makes me write someone off faster than the statement, "I don't really read books -- I read magazines." Through long experience and considerable effort, I've managed to overcome that in a handful of cases -- I do have a handful of friends and close associates who don't read books -- but for the most part, I just can't figure out what I might possibly have in common with anyone who doesn't appreciate a good book.

This is a book for people who don't read books. It's a collection of fierce, scary, funny and heartbreaking short stories by and about women on the edge, followed by an equally impressive collection of short nonfiction about the Women of Noir -- authors, actresses, characters. Pieces in this collection range from half a page to about 23 pages, and if you can't find something to entertain you here, I give up.

You can start an argument among any group of crime fiction fans by 1) asking for a definition of noir or 2) asserting that women don't or can't write in the noir tradition. Here's the thing: according to my definition of noir, the protagonist of the story needs to be an outsider, and you just don't find as many women writing about the outsider experience. That's changing, but the fact remains that women tend to gather together, with friends or family, and rarely assert their desires above the needs of the group. That conviction -- that one's own needs and wants trump society's -- is the heart of noir, and that's why we don't see a lot of noir written by or about women.

But it has nothing to do with interest or ability, and the heroines of classic noir are the most memorable characters. Who remembers the name of Glenn Ford's character in Gilda, or the name of the detective in Laura? Not I.

My favorite story in this collection is Alison Gaylin's "Cherish," about an obsessed fan. It is possible, Alison points out, to want to belong so badly that this desire itself makes you an outsider. That's an insight you wouldn't get from a male author.


Larry said...

Certainly, Diablo Cody and her character, Juno, fits your description of Noir.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of that great line from "Metropolitan"

"I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it's all just made up by the author."

If you want to read the whole exchange it's on IMDB

and "yay" for Alison!