A Summer of Further Discontent: Noir Fiction and the City

The powers of corruption rife in every pore surrounding the practice of capital accumulation will sell us the spikes we pump heroin into our veins with, made from steel similar to the bullets thugs and cops will use to enforce what capital takes from within and without of shifting what is legality, threatening each and all in cities large and small all over the world who would stand up to the corruption or seek to upend any contour of business as usual. An

July 11 and 18
Jeet Thayil
Written in poetic and affecting prose, Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis across three decades. A rich, hallucinatory dream that captures Bombay in all its compelling squalor, Narcopolis completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. It is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and God and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with that of the subcontinent’s familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul.

July 25 and August 1
The Expendable Man
Dorothy B. Hughes
“It was surprising what old experiences remembered could do to a presumably educated, civilized man.” And Hugh Denismore, a young doctor driving his mother’s Cadillac from Los Angeles to Phoenix, is eminently educated and civilized. He is privileged, would seem to have the world at his feet, even. Then why does the sight of a few redneck teenagers disconcert him? Why is he reluctant to pick up a disheveled girl hitchhiking along the desert highway? And why is he the first person the police suspect when she is found dead in Arizona a few days later?

Dorothy B. Hughes ranks with Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith as a master of mid-century noir. In books like In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Horse she exposed a seething discontent underneath the veneer of twentieth-century prosperity. With The Expendable Man, first published in 1963, Hughes upends the conventions of the wrong-man narrative to deliver a story that engages readers even as it implicates them in the greatest of all American crimes.

August 8 and 15
The Instant Enemy
Ross Macdonald
Generations of murder, greed and deception come home to roost in time for the most shocking conclusion ever in a Lew Archer novel. At first glance, it’s an open-and-shut missing persons case: a headstrong daughter has run off to be with her hothead juvenile delinquent boyfriend. That is until this bush-league Bonnie & Clyde kidnap Stephen Hackett, a local millionaire industrialist. Now, Archer is offered a cool 100 Gs for his safe return by his coquettish heiress mother who has her own mysterious ties to this disturbed duo. But the deeper Archer digs, the more he realizes that nothing is as it seems and everything is questionable. Is the boyfriend a psycho ex-con with murder on the brain or a damaged youngster trying to straighten out his twisted family tree?

August 22 and 29
The End of the Wasp Season
Denise Mina
When wealthy Sarah Erroll is murdered at her home in a posh part of Glasgow the local community is stunned. Heavily pregnant with desperately-wanted twins, DS Alex Morrow is called into a scene so violent that experienced officers can hardly bear to look.

On the other side of town, Thomas Anderson is told by the headmaster at his boarding school that his tyrannical father – a banker responsible for the loss of many livelihoods in the recession – has hanged himself from the old oak tree on the lawn of their home. Thomas returns to the family home to find his mother and sister in a state of shock. The head of the household is dead, yet their initial reaction is not that of grief, but relief. As Alex Morrow makes the connections between the two cases, she faces her greatest challenge yet as her work and home lives collide with potentially disastrous consequences.

September 12 and 19
Jean-Patrick Manchette
translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith,
with an introduction by Luc Sante

Nada is the most overtly political of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s dark thrillers, a critique of the terrorism that tempted a sliver of the ultra-left in France (and elsewhere) in the wake of the disillusions of 1968. The novel chronicles the kidnapping and eventual killing of an American ambassador by an anarcho-terrorist group who have espoused armed struggle. A rough equivalent to this story might be the saga of the ill-fated Symbionese Liberation Army in California, whose fiery elimination is reminiscent of the police massacre of Manchette’s fictional direct-action group in Nada. The novel is in no sense a political pamphlet, however, and readers who have come to appreciate the very special qualities of Manchette’s writing, and the cool noir style that he inherits in part from Dashiell Hammett and calls “behaviorist,” will not be disappointed in the tour de force that is Nada.

 The MEP LITERATURE GROUP has been meeting to discuss literature since the first days of The Marxist Education Project. The group last year completed a second summer of readings of noir, considering works by Hammett, Chandler, Manchette, and others. Other studies have included novels related to World War I, the global depression of the 1930s, borders and migration, and the literature of mutually assured destruction and more.

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Hard Boiled Thursdays: Summer Fiction Series


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.

July 13
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.

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