Fridays As In Murder: Women, Violence & Genre Formulas

Convened by Jacqueline Cantwell
Fridays, 6:00 to 8:00
10 meetings, November 10 through February 2
No session on Friday, November 24, December 29 or January 19

In traditional hard-boiled and crime novels, women either provoke violence as femme fatales or need protection as paying clients or wandering daughters. Some authors were dissatisfied with this pulp convention and worked in an extension of pulp, film noir, writing scripts with more complicated women. Drawing upon the potentials of film noir’s formula of restlessness, dread, and discontent within social corruption, women novelists wrote of threats to the domestic sphere and American society emerging as the global hegemon. As women’s opportunities improved and the conventions of the detective novel changed, women writers explored crime and violence resulting from the racism and class exploitation while some male authors began writing of more complicated women.

Our Friday readings will consist of the following:

Attica Locke, The Cutting Season
The body of a migrant worker is found on the grounds of a former plantation turned into an historical amusement park, complete with slave quarters. Outside the plantation, the hard-pressed owners of sugar cane fields are selling their land to a corporation that relies upon undocumented migrants. A mystery from the time of slavery parallels the modern murder.

Dorothy B. Hughes, The Expendable Man
Driving toward Phoenix, Densmore sees a young white woman hitchhiking. Even though he knows that a black man should not offer a white girl a ride, he fears for her safety. Then, he gets charged with her murder. Complicating his lackluster defense is that the woman has died from complications of an illegal abortion and he is a medical student.

Jean-Patrick Manchette, Fatale
Can a man portray a woman with a gun differently? Maybe when by Manchette. A woman comes to town to kill the corrupt. Stripped down language. Bloodier than Red Harvest. Manchette brought politics back to French thrillers.

Nina Revoyr, Lost Canyon
Four hikers whose ethnic and cultural backgrounds represent a diverse Los Angeles get lost in the mountains and find a murder. Moving effortlessly between city and wilderness, Lost Canyon explores the ways that race, class, and culture shape experience and perception while examining the choices good people must face in desperate situations.

Jacqueline Cantwell has explored the depths of crime fiction along with the heights the desperate will often want to throw themselves from. These fictions will lay bare many of the facts of the cold as ice killings and cover-ups present in a modern world where we are expected to behave better—but very often do not. What better night than Fridays in Autumn for murder and mayhem.

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Fridays As In Murder: Women, Violence & Genre Formulas

Convened by Jacqueline Cantwell
Fridays, 6:00 to 8:00
10 meetings, November 10 through January 26
No session on Friday, November 24 or December 29

In traditional hard-boiled and crime novels, women either provoke violence as femme fatales or need protection as paying clients or wandering daughters. Some authors were dissatisfied with this pulp convention and worked in an extension of pulp, film noir, writing scripts with more complicated women. Drawing upon the potentials of film noir’s formula of restlessness, dread, and discontent within social corruption, women novelists wrote of threats to the domestic sphere and American society emerging as the global hegemon. As women’s opportunities improved and the conventions of the detective novel changed, women writers explored crime and violence resulting from the racism and class exploitation while some male authors began writing of more complicated women.

Our Friday readings will consist of the following:

Attica Locke, The Cutting Season
The body of a migrant worker is found on the grounds of a former plantation turned into an historical amusement park, complete with slave quarters. Outside the plantation, the hard-pressed owners of sugar cane fields are selling their land to a corporation that relies upon undocumented migrants. A mystery from the time of slavery parallels the modern murder.

Dorothy B. Hughes, The Expendable Man
Driving toward Phoenix, Densmore sees a young white woman hitchhiking. Even though he knows that a black man should not offer a white girl a ride, he fears for her safety. Then, he gets charged with her murder. Complicating his lackluster defense is that the woman has died from complications of an illegal abortion and he is a medical student.

Jean-Patrick Manchette, Fatale
Can a man portray a woman with a gun differently? Maybe when by Manchette. A woman comes to town to kill the corrupt. Stripped down language. Bloodier than Red Harvest. Manchette brought politics back to French thrillers.

Nina Revoyr, Lost Canyon
Four hikers whose ethnic and cultural backgrounds represent a diverse Los Angeles get lost in the mountains and find a murder. Moving effortlessly between city and wilderness, Lost Canyon explores the ways that race, class, and culture shape experience and perception while examining the choices good people must face in desperate situations.

Jacqueline Cantwell has explored the depths of crime fiction along with the heights the desperate will often want to throw themselves from. These fictions will lay bare many of the facts of the cold as ice killings and cover-ups present in a modern world where we are expected to behave better—but very often do not. What better night than Fridays in Autumn for murder and mayhem.

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Thursday Noirs: Summer fiction

SPILLING THE BEANS, SPLATTERING BLOOD

A 10-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.

We have just discussed Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935) which used 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.

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