Noir, and a New Noir Novel

I’ve written a lot of noir in the last ten years. Enter the Bluebird, The Long Detention, How I Found Her, Legacy, and even Shelter in Place I think qualify.              Well, they qualify under my definition of noir, which is a work of art in which the protagonist strains to follow a moral code in a world whose institutions are hopelessly corrupt. 

            In short, noir for me isn’t just about the darkness—it is about trying to keep a light burning with darkness all around. (At least, the noir works that resonate with me are). I discovered darkness pretty early when my dad died when I was nine. I immediately discovered this tension between the bright, regular world in which I thought I was living and the dark, horrible world of grief and death that lurked just below the surface.              It’s no accident that the writers who pioneered the noir genre all served in World War I, and that it caught on as a film genre after World War 2, with veterans of both wars at the heart of many of the movies of the classic noir period. When you’ve seen violence and horror and corruption on a massive scale and then you have to go and try and live in the regular world where people pretend ignorance of such things, it’s probably going to cause some dissonance.             I’ve written before about how I’m drawn to horror because it tells an essential truth about life, which is that horrible things can happen at any time for no reason at all. (Sidebar: and this is why retconning Laurie Strode as Michael Meyers’ long-lost sister is a chickenshit move, because in Carpenter’s original vision, there is no reason at all for him to target her, and that’s what makes it scary!) And so noir, I think, also tells an essential truth about the world, which is that our institutions are corrupt and cruel. This is true in the late capitalist United States, of course, but I think it’s probably true everywhere. And that our central challenge as moral beings is to figure out how to adhere to some kind of moral code in a world that actively works against that. (The rest of this essay mentions sexual violence, so if you don’t feel like reading about that, you should probably bail at this point. Also my new book, I See Red may not be for you, though, as I explain below, it was written to honor you.)             So I’ve always been interested in noir, but I started feeling it calling to me really strongly as a result of my students. I taught college-age students at a nonprofit for seven years, and I used to have my students do an autobiographical speech. And year after year, multiple women in my class would give a speech about having been sexually assaulted. I grew to understand in a really deep way how incredibly widespread and prevalent this is. (yes, I had seen statistics, but numbers are very different from hearing three to five heartrending stories every six months.) And, of course, how people get away with it. I realized that for many women, possibly even most, the darkness I described earlier as lurking just below the surface is very much above the surface all the time.             It’s everywhere—from the two teachers at my high school who raped my classmates and continued working to the guy I worked with who sexually harassed a co-worker and got no consequences because that would have made the people who hired him look bad, to the people I know and love who have been harmed and never gotten anything close to justice.              You’ll see my anger about this in Enter the Bluebird and The Long Detention, but when the Kavanaugh hearings happened is when the idea for the book that became I See Red took root in my head. What if, I thought, there was a guy who would use his size and strength not to abuse women, but to protect them? (and, wouldn’t that, too, be potentially problematic in its own way?) And what if the people who perpetrated a sexual assault actually suffered some life-changing consequences? (I have sometimes bitterly concluded that the genre I See Red fits into most neatly is, therefore, fantasy.)             Like everything I’ve written over the last ten years, I See Red doesn’t exactly have mass appeal. I see the central problem of this book thusly: the folks who would most enjoy seeing perpetrators of sexual violence get their comeuppance are probably survivors of said violence who understandably might not want to read about it. If you are one of those people, I get it and I don’t blame you, and I hope the knowledge that I wrote this book for you might provide you with some very small measure of comfort.             This book is far from unremittingly dark. The protagonist has a good sense of humor (but is not the wisecracking smartass that so many of my protagonists are), there’s an extremely cute love story, and, in the end, well, I won’t say light wins out over darkness, but the good guys get to win one. I’m very proud of this book, and I hope you’ll give it a try. Like everything I write, it’s available on a pay-what-you-want basis because I want people to be able to read it whether they can afford it or not. If you read it and like it, please tell one person. Feel free to send out multiple copies of the ebook if you’d like! Nothing would make me happier!             Finally—the world is very dark. Let’s all do what we can to keep a light burning.