rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Read August 8th. Author via [personal profile] coffeeandink.

Gorgeous, delicious noir which both upholds the conventions of the genre perfectly and is quietly subversive on questions such as who has agency in the story. The prose is amazing.

This novel is based on a real murder which made the tabloids in 1931, one of those crimes which became a nationwide scandal but has by our day faded into the background for everyone except those who encounter it in an academic context. In 1930, Marion Seeley, twenty-one, doctor's wife, finds herself alone in Phoenix, Arizona working at a tuberculosis clinic. Her drug addict husband, de-licensed, has gone to Mexico to work as a mining company doctor, his last desperate hope at cleaning up and making some money so they can have a life together. Marion, by herself in the big city, is taken under the wing of one of the other nurses at the clinic, Louise; Louise is supporting a tubercular roommate, Ginny, and the two of them hold parties which are attended by all the wealthy men of the city. Sex and liquor and drugs flow freely, and at one of the parties Marion, an innocent abroad, meets one of the town's most influential businessmen, and falls instantly into lust for him.

The core of the book is the quadrangle formed by the three women and this (inevitably married) man: the women bound to him by economics and desperation, because they could maybe make rent and food on their salaries, but not medicine, and not parties, nothing that might be fun for girls in their early twenties who know they are one step away from homelessness and will do anything not only not to take that step, but to forget it for a little while; the women, bound to each other by friendship and love and the sexual currents between them that cannot be openly spoken about (even when acted on); the man who is not worth a smudge on one of their shoes, and who is rich beyond counting, and who doesn't think he's bound to anyone by anything.

It goes badly. It does not go badly in any of the ways one might instantly expect it to go badly, given the setup. It is worse. You need a certain gore tolerance, for this book, with its beautiful, nightmarish descriptions.

The thing that's amazing is that you never lose sympathy for Marion, Marion who starts as unforgivably naive, a girl who can't believe what's going on around her, and who at first is only having what comes naturally, an affair that fills her life with fire, something to look back on when she's old. But it slips beyond that and beyond that and beyond that, until even she doesn't know where the line ought to have been drawn, only that it ought to have. There is no line, that's the problem, it all feels inevitable although it can't have been; the important thing, though, is that there is a point where Marion looks around and says to herself, I am still here, I will still be here, and no one can take me from me, and that's a moment I can't recall ever seeing in noir before, film or novel. For a woman. In the movies they'd have made one of these women into a femme fatale. God knows the tabloids did. Of course, scratch the surface of the femme fatale and you find a woman who'd like to get off her feet, get off the street, and get her rent paid for the next six months solid. This book knows that.

There's a section at the end, after the novel proper, where the author tells you about the real murder, and what the newspaper coverage of it was like, and what we can and cannot know about it, and what she has done to extrapolate. It's a fascinating and sensitive reflection on what it means to be writing about other people's real, though historical, pain. I wish more novels based-on-a-true-story had sections like it.

I am also not going to get over the prose of this anytime soon. It's an amazing combination of hard-boiled, rhythmic, and sensual, the lushness of one of those thirties movie boudoirs turned mean (not that those rooms weren't vicious already). It's the sort of language that makes me want to read the entire thing aloud, except that for content reasons I really don't. I highly, highly recommend this.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Read August 8th. Author via [personal profile] coffeeandink.

Gorgeous, delicious noir which both upholds the conventions of the genre perfectly and is quietly subversive on questions such as who has agency in the story. The prose is amazing.

This novel is based on a real murder which made the tabloids in 1931, one of those crimes which became a nationwide scandal but has by our day faded into the background for everyone except those who encounter it in an academic context. In 1930, Marion Seeley, twenty-one, doctor's wife, finds herself alone in Phoenix, Arizona working at a tuberculosis clinic. Her drug addict husband, de-licensed, has gone to Mexico to work as a mining company doctor, his last desperate hope at cleaning up and making some money so they can have a life together. Marion, by herself in the big city, is taken under the wing of one of the other nurses at the clinic, Louise; Louise is supporting a tubercular roommate, Ginny, and the two of them hold parties which are attended by all the wealthy men of the city. Sex and liquor and drugs flow freely, and at one of the parties Marion, an innocent abroad, meets one of the town's most influential businessmen, and falls instantly into lust for him.

The core of the book is the quadrangle formed by the three women and this (inevitably married) man: the women bound to him by economics and desperation, because they could maybe make rent and food on their salaries, but not medicine, and not parties, nothing that might be fun for girls in their early twenties who know they are one step away from homelessness and will do anything not only not to take that step, but to forget it for a little while; the women, bound to each other by friendship and love and the sexual currents between them that cannot be openly spoken about (even when acted on); the man who is not worth a smudge on one of their shoes, and who is rich beyond counting, and who doesn't think he's bound to anyone by anything.

It goes badly. It does not go badly in any of the ways one might instantly expect it to go badly, given the setup. It is worse. You need a certain gore tolerance, for this book, with its beautiful, nightmarish descriptions.

The thing that's amazing is that you never lose sympathy for Marion, Marion who starts as unforgivably naive, a girl who can't believe what's going on around her, and who at first is only having what comes naturally, an affair that fills her life with fire, something to look back on when she's old. But it slips beyond that and beyond that and beyond that, until even she doesn't know where the line ought to have been drawn, only that it ought to have. There is no line, that's the problem, it all feels inevitable although it can't have been; the important thing, though, is that there is a point where Marion looks around and says to herself, I am still here, I will still be here, and no one can take me from me, and that's a moment I can't recall ever seeing in noir before, film or novel. For a woman. In the movies they'd have made one of these women into a femme fatale. God knows the tabloids did. Of course, scratch the surface of the femme fatale and you find a woman who'd like to get off her feet, get off the street, and get her rent paid for the next six months solid. This book knows that.

There's a section at the end, after the novel proper, where the author tells you about the real murder, and what the newspaper coverage of it was like, and what we can and cannot know about it, and what she has done to extrapolate. It's a fascinating and sensitive reflection on what it means to be writing about other people's real, though historical, pain. I wish more novels based-on-a-true-story had sections like it.

I am also not going to get over the prose of this anytime soon. It's an amazing combination of hard-boiled, rhythmic, and sensual, the lushness of one of those thirties movie boudoirs turned mean (not that those rooms weren't vicious already). It's the sort of language that makes me want to read the entire thing aloud, except that for content reasons I really don't. I highly, highly recommend this.

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