Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dark, Twisted, and Clever, in JEWISH NOIR, ed. Kenneth Wishnia

Kenneth Wishnia's been touring a lot this fall, and there are still some significant appearances ahead on his calendar, from Holbrook NY (Long Island) to the Poisoned Pen (Arizona) to City Lights (San Francisco). (Check his website, here.) It would be fun to catch up with him at any of those locations -- but it's even more fun to read his new anthology, JEWISH NOIR.

The range of authors here is stunning: Jonathan Santlofer, Moe Prager (aka Reed Farrel Coleman), Wishniak himself, S. J. Rozan, Wendy Hornsby, Robert Lopresti, even Marge Piercy. And among the 30+ tales, there's even one from 1912, making its first appearance in English (in 1912 it was in Yiddish). I enjoyed the finale from the extraordinary Harlan Ellison. A special pleasure was a clever tale from Dave Zeltserman, whose writing is often quintessential in this area. Zeltserman's narrator, an embittered writer who's broken through into being well published in spite of an early and very nasty rejection letter, pauses to talk about noir itself, and I really like his summary:
... there are no heroes or happy endings in noir. And there's certainly no hope. True noir is about the alienated, the hapless, the broken.Things start off bad in noir fiction and only get worse. Moral lines are crossed that can't be uncrossed and characters fight a losing battle to keep from tumbling into the abyss.
Zeltserman's crime-pondering protagonist in this tale is borderline psychotic, too, which will give you a good taste of where his dark fiction tends to roam!

But Prager's tale "Feeding the Crocodile" is at least as dark, with a cameo for an SS lieutenant. And then there's the diversity -- Michael J. Cooper takes us to Jerusalem in 1948; B. K. Stevens opens with a faculty meeting; S. J. Rozan delighted me with Jews in Shanghai; and there's a midnight-dark tale of adoption form Travis Richardson that is probably going to sit malignantly in my brain forever.

More than 400 pages of malice, despair, conceit, sometimes heroic actions, and yes, alienation -- JEWISH NOIR should probably be read in very small doses, with a warning label. (Grim grin here.) But oh, what a collection!

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