The home of Chuck Palahniuk, Powell's City of Books-and the place with more strip clubs per capita than any other city in America-gets its due in this splendid entry in Akashic's noir series. Portland natives will appreciate shout-outs to lesser-known landmarks, like the weekly showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Clinton Street Theater in Ariel Gore's "Water Under the Bridge," while outsiders may recognize some of the city's more famous draws, like the Shanghai Tunnels in Gigi Little's "Shanghaied." Standouts include Floyd Skloot's eerily poignant "Alzheimer's Noir"; Jonathan Selwood's "The Wrong House," about a drug deal that goes horribly awry; and Bill Cameron's "Coffee, Black," which features not only his series regular, retired detective Thomas "Skin" Kadash, but also one of the city's most prized commodities: coffee. The 16 stories in this anthology demonstrate that a little rain is never a deterrent to murder. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Portland Noirby Kevin Sampsell
Brand-new stories by: Gigi Little, Justin Hocking, Christopher Bolton, Jess Walter, Monica Drake, Jamie S. Rich (illustrated by Joelle Jones), Dan DeWeese, Zoe Trope, Luciana
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In a city full of police controversies, hippie artist punk houses, and overzealous liberals, Portland, Oregon, is a place where even its fiction blurs with its bizarre realities.
Brand-new stories by: Gigi Little, Justin Hocking, Christopher Bolton, Jess Walter, Monica Drake, Jamie S. Rich (illustrated by Joelle Jones), Dan DeWeese, Zoe Trope, Luciana Lopez, Karen Karbo, Bill Cameron, Ariel Gore, Floyd Skloot, Megan Kruse, Kimberly Warner-Cohen, and Jonathan Selwood.
Editor Kevin Sampsell is a bookstore employee and writer. He is the author of a short story collection, Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus Press), and the upcoming memoir The Suitcase (HarperPerennial, summer 2009). He is also the editor of The Insomniac Reader (Manic D Press) and the publisher of the micropress Future Tense Books.
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IntroductionCrime and Unrest in Utopia
I wonder how people think of Portland from the outside. Is it a hippie haven where everyone reads Ken Kesey and hangs out at open mike night? Is it the gray, grungy, junkie-riddled streets of early Gus Van Sant movies? A cheap, trendy town full of myopic record labels and zinesters? Sex worker paradise? Bookstore heaven? A place where New Yorkers come to feel important and/or relaxed? Some wet old logging town that somehow became "one of the best cities in America"?
Yeah, it's all that and a fancy coffee spilled on your Gore-Tex jacket (the same one you soiled with microbrew last night).
People who live in Portland love being here, despite its imperfections. We tend to love our mayors (even the currently scandalous Sam Adams) despite the sketchy police force, and we cherish the great public transportation even when every other neighborhood is being torn up for renovation. The restaurants are amazing and the music scene seems like it's in a perpetual heyday. If Portland was Seattle's kid nephew in the past, these days it's more like Seattle is our creepy old uncle. (Sorry, I didn't mean to get off track.)
I moved here in summer of 1992. I grew up in Eastern Washington and lived in a few places before this (even Seattle). I'm not ashamed to admit that I moved here partly because of Powell's, the giant bookstore, where I eventually started working. I wanted to live in a city that valued reading and geeked out on books.
I quickly found out that Portland is a city of stories and uncertain history. I've decided that the shady history lessons ("people were kidnapped in the Shanghai Tunnels"), perverse sightseeing tours ("this is where Elliott Smith first shot up"), and cultish rituals ("you can get married at the twenty-four-hour Church of Elvis") that make up the town's mythology are more interesting if you don't take them too seriously. Local fiction writers like Katherine Dunn and Chuck Palahniuk have obviously been inspired by this place's blurry yin and yang as well.
Settled in 1843 and named by a coin flip (we were almost named Boston), Portland had troubles from the start. The first sheriff, William Johnson, was busted for selling "ardent spirits." He had been "reduced by an evil heart," said the indictment. The first couple of decades were probably pretty rough, what with the constant flooding and muddy streets making all the citizens cranky. In the 1870s, a couple of laws were created in an attempt to tame this wild west. You couldn't fire a pistol downtown and the speed limit for your carriage was six miles per hour.
Later, in the 1940s and '50s, the city practically thrived on criminal activity. Speakeasies, brothels, and gambling dens popped up across the downtown area. The police, the district attorney, and local Teamsters were all in bed with local vice pushers. Portland became known as quite the decadent town, even prompting Bobby Kennedy to wrangle up its main bad guys for a televised Racketeering Committee meeting in 1957. One senator said at the hearings, "If I lived there, I would suggest they pull the flags down to half-mast in public shame."
A lot of these places of "shame" remain standing, and while many are occupied now by salons and offices, some of them are probably still home to gambling and stripping. (Portland does, after all, have more strip clubs per capita than any other city in America-and yep, they take it all off here.)
Our history of bad behavior just doesn't go away.
In putting together this collection, I was thrilled to see the contributors capture fascinating details from the various neighborhoods and settings, including the aforementioned Shanghai Tunnels and familiar locales on Burnside Avenue and in the posh Northwest part of town. We also got the depressing warehouse area that borders Highway 30 and the old Americana vibe of St. Johns. On the other side of the Willamette River , you get wild skateboarders, anarchists, lesbian damsels in distress, and a junkie breaking into a house in the Mount Tabor neighborhood. (Note to outsiders: Mount Tabor is our very own volcano!) And because Portland is essentially a small city, you may notice some intentional déjà vu, some bleeding together of stories and places. Like pieces of a puzzle that snap together to show a colorful map.
When I first moved here, I thought the statue of that guy in Pioneer Courthouse Square, the bronze man with the umbrella (on the cover of this book), had a panicked look about him. Like he was hailing a cab to get the heck out of here. But now I see his dapper suit, his forward-moving pose, and his confident hand gesture as a comforting symbol of strength.
Portland continues to update its own version of a contemporary utopian society as more and more people flock here. But even in utopia, crime and unrest are always bubbling right under the surface.
Kevin Sampsell Portland, OR March 2009
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Meet the Author
Kevin Sampsell is a bookstore employee and writer. He is the author of a short story collection, Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus Press) and the upcoming memoir, The Suitcase (HarperPerennial, summer 2009). He is also the editor of The Insomniac Reader (Manic D Press) and the publisher of the micropress, Future Tense Books.
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