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Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Progress: 'Best American Noir'

Not only should short stories not be read one after another after another, without pause for the effect of each one, but noir short stories definitely should be allowed to breathe on their own.

Take Dennis Lehane's entry in the upcoming Best American Noir of the Century (October 2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Although Lehane is best known for his contemporary and historical novels of Boston, his 1999 story "Running Out of Dog" is set in the south. It's a post-Vietnam tale of three friends, Elgin, Blue and Jewel Lut, and how adulthood has not treated them well.

Without going into details that may spoil the reading experience, I have to say this is an epic story. And it is Southern. And it is heart-breaking, the way the best noir is.

To wit:

And when hope comes late to a man, it's quite a dangerous thing. Hope is for the young, the children. Hope in a full-grown man -- particularly one with as little acquaintanceship with it or prospect for it as ... -- well, that kind of hope burns as it dies, boils blood white, and leaves something mean behind when it's done.

And the end:

In the world, case you haven't noticed, you usually pay for your sins. And in the South, always.
Many stories have so far made this anthology worth while (and a full review is coming closer to publication date). But this story is one of the top reasons.

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