Thursday, May 28, 2015

Paul D. Brazill's 13 Shots ..., or Noir: I know it when I see it

I don't think much about what noir is or isn't, but every once in a while, as Potter Stewart did with obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio, I know it when I see it.

My latest epiphany has come with the opening stories of Paul D. Brazill's 13 Shots of Noir. The stories are all dark, of course, in the sense that their characters do terrible things,  but they are filled with humor, and one even has a happy ending of a kind.

So, what makes Brazill's stories noir? Just this: Better than most authors whose work gets tagged noir, Brazill makes every villain, as the saying goes, a hero in his own story. In addition to the attendant irony and humor, that is apt to fascinate and horrify a reader at the same time. And that, it says here, is one of noir's defining characteristics.

© Peter Rozovsky 2015

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25 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

I think Paul writes wonderful short stories--gritty often, but always with a little dash of something else thrown in. Humor,yes, but also a certain compassion and wry amusement at our human predicament

Which makes it all the more inexplicable that I have this book sitting on my shelf and I still haven't read it yet. Must correct that.

May 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You could do worse than to remedy that lapse. They're short stories; you have time.

May 28, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I was mistaken. The book I actually have is his novel, A Case of Noir. But I believe that some of the stories from 13 Shots have been featured either on his website or some he links to.

May 28, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have not read that, but I shall investigate. I had previously read some of his Roman Dalton stories as well as Guns of Brixton, about which I posted here a while back. G.O.B. and the stories I'm reading now suggest the man is in control of what he's trying to do a lot better than some writers are who probably sell a lot more books.

May 28, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

I'm in a situation similar to Seana's: I have a couple of Paul's books on my Kindle. Now I just need to get around to reading them. Thanks for the reminder (prod).

May 29, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Joseph Brodsky once said that when people told him they had no time to read poetry, he would say that was precisely why they should ear poetry: It packs much into few words and is therefore perfect for busy people. The same might be said about short stories. Noir they certainly are.

May 29, 2015  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

You're all far too kind and I greatly appreciate this.

May 29, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nah, good noir hits like a high and a punch in the gut at the same time, but without the pain and the puking, Many thanks.

May 29, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, in re your comment, a wry attitude and, especially, compassion, have always been essential to noir. Noir, contrary to what seems to be taken for granted in many discussions, is not all about deadly seriousness and righteous anger. Noir is what comes after all that.

May 29, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I like that last line especially, Peter.

May 29, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Seana. I always figure that death, anger, or catharsis are too easy a way out for real noir. I'm not sure a lot of the Nordic crime fiction I've read is noir, for example, despite the felicitous alliteration of Nordic noir.

May 29, 2015  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

My own spin is that crime fiction is about bringing order to chaos and noir is about bringing chaos to order. So most Nordic Noir probably isn't noir because they do like to tidy things up..

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

I like Paul's definition of noir: concise and accurate. I heard a couple at NoirCon I liked, as well. Noir's biggest issue to many--myself sometimes included--is it's hard to pin down, as it's so often in the eye of the beholder.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Nordic protagonists are depressed or angry. Noir protagonists are resigned or clueless.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: In other words, you know it when you see it.

The first NoirCon included a presentation from a one David Schmid (a professor, but all right nonetheless) about all the things noir means to all kinds of people who have appropriated it in all kinds of ways in all kinds of media, including advertising.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

Peter: yeah, pretty much. Part of what confuses the matter is how broad some are willing to spread the net. A lot of people say I write noir--and I agree, in a few cases--but mostly I write what I've come to call gris: it has noir elements, but doesn't go that far. Some order is usually brought to the chaos, just not always the way everyone would like it.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I make no claim to be any kind of expert on noir, but I think that for me the greatest noir, like that of Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseille Trilogy has an air of impending doom all the way through, and ends in defeat rather than triumph. But somehow that defeat is magnificent rather than depressing.

Possibly it's because we're all going to be defeated in the end anyway, and there is some intimation of what it is to be alive despite that fact.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This nonsense about noir has had the incidental effect of making "hard boiled" a lot easier to define: crime fiction that has a tough edge, but is not noir. Put a gun to my head, and that's what I'd probably call your writing.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that's not a and definition, and the Marseille trilogy is about as noir as noir can get, and the feeling persists all the way through.

"Magnificent defeat" is not bad, either, related, even if distantly, to some of David Goodis; books. Everyone always says one characteristic of noir is that things always get worse for the protagonist. One could argue, rather, that in true noir, things get neither bad nor worse for the central character, but rather stay the same.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

I have yet to read Goodis, but I will.

As for staying the same, I wonder if one aspect is that on some level, they already know how things will work out--badly. It's not actually a very American attitude, is it? Although of course there have been some great American noir writers.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps the un-Americanness of such an attitude lends noir whatever subversive edge it has. Noir is an American thing, after all.

I haven't read a lot of Goodis, so I can't say for sure what his best work is, but the story "Black Pudding" and the novel Cassidy's Girl were the formative works as far as my thoughts about him.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger seana graham said...

Thanks. I'll look for those.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Library of America collects five novels in its Goodis volume. I'm not sure if Goodis' short stories are collected anywhere, or even if he wrote enough to be collected. "Black Pudding" is included the excellent Hard Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories.

May 30, 2015  
Blogger Dana King said...

Peter,

I agree with you. I'd call myself hard-boiled, based on generally accepted definitions. It's just that I dislike the term. Something about it seems...frivolous? Almost as if something that's hard-boiled can't be more than cheap, disposable entertainment. I know that's kind of how the genre came to prominence, and that a good deal of great writing and stories have been in the hard-boiled style. I wish there was a better term for it.

June 01, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana: Yes, hard-boiled has gone bad with overuse, just as noir has been diluted by excessive appropriation.

June 01, 2015  

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