The image of a charming college town serves New Haven well, but its natives know that the city has been built on a rich—and violent—history that still seeps out from between the cracks in the sidewalks and the halls of learning.
Now, New York Times–bestselling author—and Connecticut resident—Amy Bloom masterfully curates a star-studded cast of contributors, featuring Michael Cunningham, Stephen L. Carter, and Roxana Robinson, to portray New Haven’s underbelly. Highlights of the anthology include Lisa D. Gray’s “The Queen of Secrets,” which won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award and John Crowley’s “Spring Break,” winner of the Edgar Award for Best Short Story. Tales by Alice Mattison, Chris Knopf, Jonathan Stone, Sarah Pemberton Strong, Karen E. Olson, Jessica Speart, Chandra Prasad, David Rich, Hirsh Sawhney, and Bloom herself round out this impressive collection.
“Town-gown tensions highlight several of the 15 stories in this stellar Akashic noir anthology set in the Elm City . . . This [volume] is particularly strong on established authors, many of whom have impressive credentials outside the genre.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The anthology brings together writers who take varied approaches to the idea of noir in the Elm City. Some stories are historical, some are contemporary. All the classic New Haven landmarks are there, including plenty of Yale . . . The full sweep of New Haven’s character is on display in the anthology.” —Connecticut Magazine
About the Author
Roxana Robinson (b. 1946) is the author of five novels, most recently Sparta; three short story collections; and the biography Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Best American Short Stories, among other publications. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Robinson teaches in Hunter College’s master of fine arts program and is president of the Authors Guild, the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for writers.
Read an Excerpt
New Haven is not a tourist town. You could come for the food trucks down by the harbor, for the loaf of olive sourdough at the Wooster Square farmer's market, for a wild-eyed hockey game at the Whale, for concerts on the Green with entertainers whom you feared were dead. Some people do. More people come for something to do with Yale — students, staff, faculty, spouses of all kinds; the university has long arms — for something to do with the hospitals (split-liver transplant, anyone?), or for something to do with pizza. (I was surprised that the Sally's/Pepe's/Modern Apizza war didn't feature more heavily in this anthology's stories. It's no joke.)
Our history is bound up with the original king-killers, three guys who signed the death warrant for the murder of King Charles I in 1649 and fled to New England, because even then (pre-Connecticut), payback was a bitch. In New Haven, we love Edward, Charles, and John — the regicides. We even have a trail named after them.
We had Billy Grasso, a garden-variety crook and shakedown artist. We had Charlie "the Blade" Tourine, imported from Jersey. The city had a long run of Midge Renault, who was only 5'3" and not any kind of Frenchman (Salvatore Annunziato), and he, short and crazy, was a one-man crime wave for many years. Midge was the kind of guy to track you down, beat you up, run you over with your own car, and then pick you up so he could hit you again. He'd bribed everyone in New Haven who could be bribed. If you couldn't be bribed, he burned down your house or your restaurant. When he was in jail, the guards let him go home, just to be on the safe side. Everybody knows that story.
If noir is about corruption, absurdity, anxiety, the nightmare of bureaucracy, New Haven, with multiple universities and multiple clinics and multiple, and sometimes clashing, neighborhoods, is a noir town. If it's about sex, money, and revenge, we have a lot of that, played out against the backdrop of the stately homes in East Rock, or the food carts ringing the hospital, or a bocce game played by trash-talking centenarians who believe that murder is a better solution than divorce. New Haven is a noir town.
We invented the first steamboat, the first cotton gin, the lollipop, the hamburger, and the automatic revolver. That's noir country. We have a large, deep harbor and two traprock ridges (East and West Rock). People disappear into and under these geographic features often.
Our murder rate is up only a little, and way down from where it used to be. Our victims range from children to old folks. The number of shots fired is much lower. Our aim has improved. We have our favorite unsolved crimes: Our town's Whitey Tropiano, a mobster shot dead on the street. The Yale senior killed and found on a quiet street corner (various amateurs have devoted years to this search; one guy is pretty sure it's part of a 9/11 conspiracy, but he belongs in a different anthology). A lot of people were riveted by the headless torso found in an abandoned building, the handless arms found near the State Street commuter station. (See Chris Knopf's story, which may owe something to this tragedy.) The pieces were part of a well-liked homeless guy and, eighteen months later, no one knows anything more about it.
In the place where I get coffee:
Guy buying a muffin: "You know the arms with no hands?"
Woman stirring her coffee: "You mean the legs in the train station?"
Man behind the counter: "It was Ray Roberson."
Guy: "Bobo? I know Bobo."
Woman: "Not now. Poor Bobo."
The twelve people in the coffee shop stop what they're doing and a young woman behind the counter starts singing "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," and everyone either joins in or drops their heads. An older man in a suit clasps his hands in prayer.
We may be a noir town but, even though noir usually manages not to, we have heart.
The chance to bring together some of my favorite writers, in my adopted hometown (in every place I bartended, the cook or the manager carried a .38 in his waistband, and I can still make ten kinds of boilermakers), was a joy and a privilege. Every single story is a noir gem, among them:
Alice Mattison breaks the mold. In her Lighthouse Point Park story, she gives the femme fatale a twist from which I hope the genre never recovers. This time, the hopeful, lovesick dim bulb is a young woman and the sexy, manipulative devil with the irresistible body is a man. Mattison throws in a double twist, in which the dreams of glory and money are all at the most unremarkable levels.
Chandra Prasad's "Silhouettes" takes classic 1940s noir for a perverse spin around a drought- and war-addled Wooster Square, far from its modern charms. The young man with a limp is shy. The girls are flirts. The boss does seem to be looking, all the time. The wife doesn't know much. All I can say is, Strouse Adler Corset factory — and I didn't see that coming.
Michael Cunningham and John Crowley take us to noir-beyond-time, to worlds that have a whiff of the uncanny. Cunningham creates a nightmarish hotel of disturbances, "The Man in Room Eleven." Crowley assaults all of our senses, Clockwork Orange-style, in his exploration of a Yale we haven't seen yet.
The writers in this volume find noir in the seventies, the eighties, and the nineties, from college boys to Italian widows. Roxana Robinson finds noir in the world of biographers and Beinecke Library. Classic noir returns to our modern lives in Sarah Pemberton Strong's "Callback," in which we get the no-good dame, theatrical rivalry, and a stage-door romance as well. In "Evening Prayer," Stephen L. Carter lets us see truth emerging as a knife in the heart. In New Haven Noir, everyone lies — and when they tell the truth, it's even worse.
If you are an optimist, noir may be an antidote, a crisp, dry balance for your sunny outlook. If you are a pessimist (or, as we say, a realist), noir is your home ground, your tribe. It's not just that you expect ants to come to the picnic; you know damned well that there will be ants at the picnic. When they come, you're relieved. When they crawl up your brother's leg, you're reassured and possibly delighted. But the other side of noir is the moral center. The center may be shabby, frayed, and in serious need of a facelift, but it is a center. It's not necessarily heroic. It's likely to be cynical, and its resilience is not the showy kind. Mean streets, as Raymond Chandler once said, but not mean.
That's New Haven.
Amy Bloom New Haven, CT May 2017(Continues…)
Excerpted from "New Haven Noir"
Copyright © 2017 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Part I: Skull&Bones
“Crossing Harry” by Chris Knopf (Union Station)
“Callback” by Sarah Pemberton Strong (Audubon Arts District)
“A Woe for Every Season” by Hirsh Sawhney (Dwight)
“Sure Thing” by David Rich (Long Wharf)
“I’ve Never Been to Paris” by Amy Bloom (East Rock)
Part II: Down and Out In Elm City
“The Secret Societies” by Roxana Robinson (Beinecke Library)
“The Boy” by Karen E. Olson (Fair Haven)
“Evening Prayer by Stephen L. Carter (Dixwell Avenue)
“Second Act” by Jessica Speart (Food Terminal Plaza)
“The Gauntlet” by Jonathan Stone (Edgewood Avenue)
Part III: Death or Glory
“Innovative Methods” by Alice Mattison (Lighthouse Point Park)
“Spring Break” by John Crowley (Yale University)
“Silhouettes” by Chandra Prasad (Wooster Square)
“The Man in Room Eleven” by Michael Cunningham (Chapel Street)
“The Queen of Secrets” by Lisa D. Gray (Bradley Street)