I started reading The Maltese Falcon yesterday, which is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read forever without getting around to it. I lay the blame entirely on the film, which is awesome and fulfilling in a way that the other big hardboiled-to-noir adaptation* never really manages, and thus makes it easier to excuse the act of reading in favour of another round of Bogart playing Sam Spade.
In any case, after starting to read I had some thoughts. Six of them, to be exact:
1) The more I read hardboiled fiction the more I’m aware of the way it infiltrates our culture, seeping in through other media when we’re not looking. It’s a genre that lends itself to the intertextual, to endless moments of “so that’s where that came from” as you go back and find primary sources. I knew the tropes of noir film long before I came across it’s classic stories, largely because I’d inherited the narrative beats through cartoons that riffed on them, and because they’d been deployment in films like Bladerunner and the early fiction of William Gibson.
2) Noir is a genre of spiritual exhaustion, a kind of precursor to the sense emotionally bankrupt doom that started seeping into the big L literature I was reading in my undergraduate days. Its heroes exist in liminal space – not quite on the straight-and-narrow, not quite down among the criminals – but they’re guided by a kind of self-developed morality and nobility that exists beneath the layer of cynicism (See Sam Spades’ closing monologue in The Maltese Falcon, or the recurring motif of chess and knighthood in Raymond Chandler’s fiction). It’s a desperate morality, sure; tattered and unreliable, but it’s there.
3) Given the two points above, someone has presumably written a book or thesis on postmodernism and the hardboiled detective story. If that’s true, I wish to read it. Also, apropos of nothing, I want someone to write a paper on the influences of Dashiel Hammett’s Sam Spade on the Sparhawk character in David Edding’s Elenium books.
4) Hardboiled fiction written in the third person is weird.
5) The Maltese Falcon may be a classic of the genre, but I’ll throw my weight behind The Thin Man as the best hardboiled story Hammett wrote over the course of his life. Despite my affection for the endless pragmatism of Spade and his emotional engagement with the world, there’s something utterly charming about having two primarily characters who are already married, enjoy one-another’s company, and verbally spar over the course of the book.
6) One of these days I really need to find an Angry Nerd Book Club where I can go be angry, nerdy, and have these types of conversations with other people. I miss talking about books with other people, I think, especially in environments where others understand why people who say “why can’t you just enjoy it instead of picking holes” should be stoned to death with remaindered copies of the Da Vinci Code.
*that’d be The Big Sleep incidentally, which is awesome right up until a point about halfway through, after which it’s just a mess.
Current Writing Metrics
Consecutive Days Writing (500+ words): 3
New Short Stories Sent Into the Wild: 10/30
Rejections in 2010: 21/100
Claw Word Count (Finish Date: 15th November)
<– A slightly false metric for the last twenty-four hours, since I’ve hit the point where I can port in scenes from the discarded draft fo the story.