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Summers in the Hamptons were always wild and crazy, even in the late '70s when my family moved out east to Sagaponack. On the weekends in July and August the crowds would surge in from up the island and the city, and the bars, restaurants, and beaches were abuzz with an easygoing excitement rife with possibility. But as the Hamptons became more popular with a richer crowd—Hollywood stars, financial magnates, even politicians—a new kind of greedy tension filled the air, and even the locals were infected. Once, when I was out visiting my mother, I overheard a guy I'd known in high school, a builder, telling people at a bar that last year he'd put in a brand-new brick deck for this CEO prick's wife, but this year the guy's new girlfriend wanted to make a statement, so she told the builder to tear out the bricks and put in a cedar deck instead. "I told her $150,000," he laughed. "She didn't blink an eye." Then he tried to sell us the bricks.
Pretty soon the fields in Sagaponack were gone, replaced by mansions, each one bigger than the last, as if it were some kind of pumpkin-growing contest. And still, no one seemed content; not on the beach, where mobile phones were constantly ringing; not in line at the supermarket or outside the nightclubs; and certainly not stopped dead in stultifying mid-day traffic. Well, it's still traffic, whether you're in a Mercedes-Benz or a Honda Civic. Now, the truly rich fly out in private planes, adding to the general racket.
It's almost as if the whole world has caught Gatsbyitis. And what an amazing, prescient book that was. The Great Gatsby could be seen as the first noir novel of Long Island—a poor boy who doesn't have two cents to rub together falls for a rich girl who would never marry him. So he makes himself a massive fortune the only way he can—illegally. And buys himself a mansion on Long Island. Despite his fortune he is never truly accepted, never truly safe, comfortable, or content. And of course, she leaves him because he'll never be part of her set.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's mansions of Great Neck and Little Neck are still there, lording imposingly over their lesser neighbors. The American dream of suburban bliss has never died, only grown more desperate, more materialistic, and less romantic as it has shoved its way further east, until now there is literally nowhere left to go. The Hamptons I knew and loved are gone forever.
The most die-hard fans of noir fiction may find a few of these stories a little gris. Not everyone here is literally down and out, though spiritually, they'll give you a run for your money. A wealthy grandmother abandons her young grandson on a public beach in a moment of rage, putting his life in danger. A Northport hood is willing to murder his own brother for ratting out the local mob. An upper-class Pakistani woman almost dies in childbirth, a victim of severe marital abuse, yet she refuses to speak out. The president of a wealthy synagogue robs his donors blind in a ponzi scheme, including his staunchest supporter, a Holocaust survivor. They are all characters driven by some twisted notion of the American Dream, which they feel they must achieve at any cost. This is real-life noir. These people are our neighbors.
* * *
I heard this story at a dinner party once. Kurt Vonnegut, who lived on our street in Sagaponack and was a family friend I wish I'd known better, was invited to a summer cocktail party at the Hamptons home of some billionaire CEO. At the party, someone asked Kurt, "How does it feel to know this guy makes more money in a day than you will ever make in your lifetime?" After a moment, Kurt responded calmly that he didn't mind at all, because he had something the CEO would never have.
"What's that?" the person challenged.
These are stories about people who will never feel they have enough, whether they have everything they ever dreamed of, or nothing at all.
Kaylie Jones February 2012
Excerpted from Long Island Noir Copyright © 2012 by Akashic Books. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted July 19, 2012
About 20 years ago I read alot of noir. Worked my way through Cornell Woolrich, Some Hammet and the like. Off and on through the years I would pick some up, Jack O'Connell being a contemporary favorite. Not too often, though. When I saw this in ER, I decided to give it a try.
Some of the stories brought back fond noir memories and some not so much.
My favorite would have to be 'Gateway to the Stars', a story of misplaced family loyalty. We all have family members somewhere making bad decisions and if we're not careful, helping them can get us into trouble of some kind.
The poorest choice, in my opinion, was 'Summer Love'. I didn't think it belonged in this collection as it seemed to me to be short fiction from some "popular" women's magazine.
If you like real world dark fiction I recommend this.