SPILLING THE BEANS, SPLATTERING BLOOD:
An 11-week group convened with the
Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group
Hard-boiled fiction and noir confirm capitalism’s violence with glaring facts, subtle twists of mind and plenty of broken bones and lives in between. Verbal sparring, physical clashes, between corrupt cops and the world-weary detectives, the calm façade smiling at the world concealing a maniacal murder machine, when distilled in a fast-paced pulp fiction or poetically narrated in a noir satisfy some of our needs to explain the violent social disorder thrown at us large and small by the contours of life lived by dictates of capital. These summer fictions we will read and discuss give voice to some of what we already know and shine light into the corners of stark realities these writers have taken on with twists and turns that surprise whether we are ready or not.
Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935) uses truncated rhythms and a unique narrative structure to turn its account of a Hollywood dance marathon into an unforgettable evocation of social chaos and personal desperation.
July 20 and 27
The Big Clock (1946), an ingenious novel of pursuit and evasion by the poet Kenneth Fearing, is set by contrast in the dense and neurotic inner world of a giant publishing corporation under the thumb of a warped and murderous chief executive.
August 3 and 10
With In a Lonely Place (1947), Dorothy B. Hughes created one of the first full-scale literary portraits of a serial murderer. The streets of Los Angeles become a setting for random killings, and Hughes ventures, with unblinking exactness, into the mind of the killer. In the process she conjures up a potent mood of postwar dread and lingering trauma.
August 17 and 24
In The Blunderer (1954), Patricia Highsmith tracks two men, strangers to each other, whose destinies become intertwined when one becomes obsessed with a crime committed by the other. Highsmith’s gimlet-eyed portrayals of failed marriages and deceptively congenial middle-class communities lend a sardonic edge to this tale of intrigue and ineptitude.
August 31 and September 7
Two teenagers fresh out of stir set their sights on what looks like easy money in Dolores Hitchens’ Fools’ Gold (1958) and get a painful education in how quickly and drastically a simple plan can spin out of control. The basis for Jean-Luc Godard’s film Band of Outsiders, Fools’ Gold is a sharply told tale distinguished by its nuanced portrait of a shelteredof young woman who becomes a reluctant accomplice and fugitive. This classic novel is one of eight works included in The Library of America’s two-volume edition Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s, edited by Sarah Weinman.
September 14 and 21
With its gritty realism, unrestrained violence and frequently outrageous humor, The Real Cool Killers (1959) is among the most powerful of Chester Himes’s series of novels about the Harlem detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.