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Saturday, July 24, 2010

'The sky ... bled richly'

Bleakness is celebrated in The Best American Noir of the Century, to be appropriately released in October. The Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publication, edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler, is a treasure trove of what noir is, from authors well known and perhaps not so much.

One of the mid-century offerings is The Hunger by Charles Beaumont, who wrote both stories and scripts, especially for the Twilight Zone and the film versions of The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao and Masque of the Red Death.

The Hunger has what may be one of the earliest instances of dual narratives -- a device that is over-used today. But in this story, the killer's voice is unexpected and veers toward being poignant. That makes the story work all the more powerfully, because the protagonist radiates as a poignant character. Julia is a young woman living with two widowed sisters. The talk of the household is of a mad stranger killing women. The sisters look forward to another murder as eagerly as Dracula's brides looked forward to his next victim.

The opening sets the tone:
Now, with the sun almost gone, the sky looked wounded -- as if a gigantic razer had been drawn across it, slicing deep. It bled richly. And the wind, which came down from High Mountain, cool as rain, sounded a little like children crying: a soft, unhappy kind of sound, rising and falling.
Definitely material worthy of the month of Halloween.

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