NOIR by Robert Coover

Book Quote:

“When you woke up it was dark and you didn’t know where you were. The blinking neon light outside the window, however, was a useful hint.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (NOV 28, 2010)

I live, eat and breath noir seven days a week, and so when I saw Noir by Robert Coover, it was one of those books I had to read, and now at the end of that experience, I admit to having mixed feelings.

Any fan of the genre should check out Noir. It’s really a brilliant exercise in style–Noir style. I’m going to temper that by adding it’s a homage to film noir style more than anything else. Film noir style includes heavy chiaroscuro effects and various characters easily identified with the genre: the private eye and the femme fatale are just two of the more recognizable characters. With Noir (the novel) it’s as though the author took the genre of film noir and decided to convert it into a book. This is no easy feat, and as a result the book is heavy visual. Just imagine a noir B film, the tale of a low-rent PI, converted into print, and if you imagine that, then you have Robert Coover’s Noir in a nutshell. However, the novel’s titanic use of film noir style also produces a tale that avoids the subtleties of noir fiction.

The tale is told (in the second person) by Phillip M. Noir, Private Investigator and, of course, it involves a beautiful deceitful dame who hires Noir to investigate her husband’s death:

“She looked like trouble and the smart thing probably would have been to send her packing. But the rent has to be paid, you don’t have enough business to turn down anyone. And besides, you liked her legs. So, instead, even though you knew her story before you heard it, the inevitable chronicle of sex, money, betrayal (what the fuck is the matter with the world anyway?), you asked her to tell it. From the beginning, you said.”

Noir takes the case and is sucked into “The Case of the Vanishing Black Widow.” His quest for the truth takes him to the morgue, grotty dives and seedy clubs where he runs into lowlifes, thugs and good time girls.

Here’s an early passage which shows Coover’s incredible knack at reproducing a written version of film noir:

“You were in your office late. The phone call came in. You pulled on your old trenchcoat with the torn pockets, holstered your heater under your armpit, and headed for the docklands. The scene of the crime. Nightmarishly dark as it usually is down there, even in the middle of most days, lit only by dull swinging streetlamps, the reflective wet streets more luminous than the lamps themselves, though casting no light of their own. Everything shut up tight but as though harbouring unspeakable doings behind the locked doors and barred windows.”

This is all very clever stuff, but there are also times when the plot goes overboard, piling on clichés and as a result the novel shifts from homage to parody. In one section for example, Noir details the story of a hooker, Michiko who’s passed back and forth in a tattoo war between rival gang leaders. One page would get the point, but three and half pages shoves this episode over into parody territory.

Noir is an interesting exercise in style, and if there’s a Noir competition out there, similar to the International Imitation Hemingway Competition, then Noir deserves to win. If you’re up for parody/cliché, then you might like Noir. Cruise the internet; there are glowing reviews. For me, I like my noir lean and mean; anything less smacks of sacrilege.

PUBLISHER: Overlook Hardcover; 1 edition (March 4, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Robert Coover
EXTRAS: ExcerptCoover wins Rea Award in 1987
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Other  noir books reviewed by Guy Savage:


November 28, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, Noir, Unique Narrative, y Award Winning Author

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