Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s

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Overview

This adventurous volume, with its companion devoted to the 1950s, presents a rich vein of modern American writing too often neglected in mainstream literary histories. Evolving out of the terse and violent hardboiled style of the pulp magazines, noir fiction expanded over the decades into a varied and innovative body of writing. Tapping deep roots in the American literary imagination, the novels in this volume explore themes of crime, guilt, deception, obsessive passion, murder, and the disintegrating psyche. ...
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Overview

This adventurous volume, with its companion devoted to the 1950s, presents a rich vein of modern American writing too often neglected in mainstream literary histories. Evolving out of the terse and violent hardboiled style of the pulp magazines, noir fiction expanded over the decades into a varied and innovative body of writing. Tapping deep roots in the American literary imagination, the novels in this volume explore themes of crime, guilt, deception, obsessive passion, murder, and the disintegrating psyche. With visionary and often subversive force they create a dark and violent mythology out of the most commonplace elements of modern life. The raw power of their vernacular style has profoundly influenced contemporary American culture and writing. Far from formulaic, they are ambitious works which bend the rules of genre fiction to their often experimental purposes.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Library of America gave a tremendous boost to the reputation of hard-boiled detective fiction with the inclusion of Raymond Chandler among its illustrious ranks (Classic Returns, LJ 9/15/95). This new two-volume set is another giant step in the direction of legitimacy for the pulp mystery genre. This duo collect 11 of the best crime novels in which the criminal rather than the sleuth is the central character. Included here are such gems as James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cornell Woolrich's I Married a Dead Man, Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Chester Himes's The Real Cool Killers. These tales of murder and mayhem belong in all fiction collections.
Booknews
Presents six early classics of American noir fiction: James M. Cain's , Edward Anderson's , Kenneth Fearing's , William Lindsay Gresham's , Cornell Woolrich's , and Horace McCoy's . A companion volume collects works of the 1950s. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781883011468
  • Publisher: Library of America, The
  • Publication date: 9/1/1997
  • Series: Library of America Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 990
  • Sales rank: 543,762
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.03 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Polito
Robert Polito

Robert Polito is director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing and professor of writing at The New School. He is the author of Doubles, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Table of Contents

The Postman Always Rings Twice 1
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? 97
Thieves Like Us 215
The Big Clock 379
Nightmare Alley 517
I Married a Dead Man 797
Biographical Notes 977
Note on the Texts 983
Notes 987
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Gritty pictures from life's other side in the 1930s USA

    I bought this book because Kenneth Fearing's "The Big Clock" is included. (As a separate volume that book costs 1/2 the price of the list price of this book; the B&N price is much lower than list.)

    As it happened, I read all of the novels one after another, in about 2 weeks. That's how much I enjoyed them.

    It turns out that I found "The Big Clock" to be mildly disappointing -- the writing style & structure are 1st class, but there was an annoying hole in the plot. He was a poet, and I want to read some of his poetry.

    The other novels are exceptional. The story in "Thieves Like Us" tells the story of bank robbers in the South & Southwest much like the the Barrows, John Dillinger, or Bonnie & Clyde -- except that it tells the story of ordinary bank robbers who were not celebrities, on a day-to-day basis (it addresses issues of buying cars, having enough food around, and renting safehouses in tiny towns down South). I imagine that it was much like this for real bank robbers.

    Perhaps the best of the novels are "The Postman Always Rings Twice," which I think helped set the basis for plots of the noir films and novels that followed, and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" You may know the films of these novels. "Postman" involves adultery and murder; "Horses" is a very grueling account of 1930s dance marathons in LA, and thus not a typical crime novel.

    The other novels are fine too: "Nightmare Alley" is the story of the rise & fall of a carnival hustler turned fortune-teller turned spiritualist minister. "I Married a Dead Man" is an intricate story of a poor young woman who takes advantage of a chance to join a wonderful, loving, and wealthy family through deception -- and the loss of her happiness.

    I've just mentioned plots -- all of the novels have their own styles and manners of narration. "Nightmare Alley" has complex symbols based on the Tarot cards that appear at the beginning of each chapter, for example, while in "Horses" you know how the story will end on the first page -- and the rest of the novel says how we got there.

    Particularly interesting to me was the language characters used, especially general slang and the special slang of carnies & low-down criminals. Some of the realia is interesting too -- I never knew that it was common to find a JC Penny's store in a small town in the Southwest in the 1930s!

    All in all I say -- read this book if you like hardboiled crime or noir novels. It's a bargain! And it comes in the excellent Library of America binding with their very readable pages. I know that if treated right, the book would last long enough for my great-grandchildren to read.

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    Posted January 14, 2011

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