« Walker Evans | Main | "The Question of Kurdistan" »

Chicago Noir

Chicago Noir is a highly readable story collection which offers numerous fresh, inventive takes on the well-worn noir genre. While there's still plenty of moral ambiguities, cliffhanger plot twists and sudden acts of senseless violence for devoted noir fans, the writers here come up with some interesting new angles. The authors represented here are generally younger, with only a few (editor and contributor Neal Pollack, Adam Langer, Joe Meno and Kevin Guilfoile, in particular) being familiar names on a national level. But even the lesser-known writers come up with some strong contributions, making this a very enjoyable effort overall.

Guilfoile's "Zero Zero Day" is probably the strongest effort, about a police scanner junkie who's content to just listen to the world go by, as dispatched over his scanner. But in the last minutes of a rare and potentially monumental "Zero Zero Day"--one with no murders or shootings--he faces a dilemma: whether to call 911 to help a man in need, or to preserve the Zero Zero Day for the posterity of him and his fellow scanner freaks. Peter Orner's "Dear Mr. Kleczka" involves the paroled and exiled murderer Nathan Leopold (of Leopold & Loeb infamy) writing a reply letter to an indignant citizen who is outraged over Leopold being granted his freedom, while C.J. Sullivan's "Alex Pinto Hears the Bell" sympathetically portrays a retired prizefighter struggling to regain his long-lost fame and then his human dignity. And Andrew Ervin's "All Happy Families" confounds expectations by not having a single character die; Ervin's narrative deftly interweaves three threads: a nearly-botched bank holdup and subsequent train ride back to Chicago (with a nifty shout-out to Joliet!); the robber's obsession with the Chicago Cubs, whose game he's hoping to attend that evening if the cops don't pick him up first; and some backstory as to how an intelligent literature major ever started robbing banks.

Oddly enough, one of my favorite stories here is told from the perspective of a Packers fan. (Boo! Hiss!) Jim Arndorfer's "The Oldest Rivalry" involves an involuntary manslaughter (probably justified) committed by a man protecting his young son, an act which will undoubtedly serve as an even greater lifelong father-son bond than their shared love for the Packers. Arndorfer's story has genuine warmth and tenderness, and in confounding expectations serves as a fitting conclusion to this fine collection.

November 5, 2005 in Books | Permalink