The term noir has certainly danced around its own grave since its inception over a half a century ago. It was originally conceived by French critics to describe the Hollywood film melodramas of a decidedly-cynical, hardboiled, downtrodden, and morally-decrepit nature that leaped out from the despairing alleys of the WWII experience. This film noir cinema of the 1940-50s—exploited from the writings of James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, to namedrop the superstars only—lifted its starkly-visual B&W style off the aging posters of German Expressionism—think Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau—and its dialogue from the European existentialists and upcoming, alienated American writers as Cornell Woolrich, Horace McCoy, David Goodis, Gil Brewer, and Jim Thompson. Neo-noir was a revitalization brought by the intense re-imagining of the 1960s, adding dark, cinemascope masterpieces like Bonnie & Clyde, Body Heat, Chinatown, Blue Velvet. Writers of roman noir coming forward were Elmore Leonard, James Crumley, James Ellroy, Charles Willeford. This is when the immorality of noir perverts into the larger, absorbing genre of crime, adding that distinctive American titty-twist of redemption to the canon. At this point, noir cannot be applied with its original definition. The label is now untrustworthy.
Then along came Tarantino and Pulp Fiction in 1994, kneading the leftover maturing principles of neo-noir with a de-sensitizing sense of humor. Now the audience could revel in its laughter with such dark notes as hitting a bump and accidentally blowing off a guy's face in the backseat of a car, or, "is that your friend in the wood chipper there?" But it also engendered arresting scenes of terror, such as waking up to find James Spader sitting on your chest with a stopwatch to time your immediate death from 1996's 2 Days in the Valley. This re-dressing gave us some worthy ensembles: The Usual Suspects, Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, The Last Seduction, Wild Things, Bound, Romeo Is Bleeding, Se7en, to name a few.
Corrosion doesn't have much of a sense of humor. It's a debut novel, after all, and that first impression is serious business. Our gritty voice is Downs, Joseph D., 522715386, USMC M, Baptist. He's an Iraqi war veteran with a "melted face"(p.7) from an IED. We first encounter him walking away from a blown-motor, Chevy truck and hiking it into Stratton, a town of "brick buildings and rotting bungalows and poorman shacks all dropped haphazardly by God after a two-week bender"(p.9). He hits Del's Lounge, starts drinking and chawing, beats the shit out of a guy who is slapping his ol' lady around, leaves, takes a room at flea-infested, grime-scribed hovel called The Piasano. "A filthy window overlooking a filthy town"(p.17).
An' guess who shows up? The slutty punching bag from the bar, appropriately named Lilith.
Hey, after all, this is a girl with "a stud in her lip and a tattoo of Betty Page on her arm"(p.12). Wha'diddya esspect?
Well, I certainly didn't expect Joseph to murder Lilith's fuckwad husband for no other reason than she wanted him gone, or so he thought. Kinda early in the novel for a femme fatale to be puttin' that on a lonely sucker protag, don'cha think? And, of course, she dumps him faster'na diarrhea assquake. He's no more than booked and de-loused then he's released on $750,000 bail by a stranger who's been stalking in the shadows. Joseph's savior thinks he's not who he thinks he is, so Joseph shotguns his head off his torso. "I sat there for a long time, listening to the blood roaring in my ears. I knew who I was"(p.97).
Sure ya do.
Corrosion's got more left turns up ahead, even for us frequent Noir Blvd. depressors. With some of 'em, you have to brake pretty hard, like foisting it off on our narrator's slipping into an hallucinogenic stream-of-consciousness frequently. I mean, yeah, he's scared, but why should I be, knowing it's just delusional? But, spreadin' Sterno all over your face then lighting it? Just to hide your identity? "But nobody gave me any lip, nobody at all, because my face was grotesque and even the devil can be frightened"(p.87). Pretty full bore. However—just for perspective—what's that band-aid hiding on the back of Marcus' neck so prominently displayed in Pulp Fiction? Does the stolen aluminum case in the opening scenes contain his soul sucked out through a hole and that's why he so desperately wants it back?(1)
In the end, author Bassoff peels off some pretty good jabs at humanity as sold to us by American culture. For a time, he makes the storyteller—no matter how elusive and unhinged he might be—a duty- and honor-bound Iraqi war vet who gained nothing but a massive disability. It adds a chill to dialogue like "What a hero! Only I didn't need your protection. I needed your violence"(p.210). And, just so you get it, "redemption is a song for the delusional"(p.230), just as "there's no such thing as a good man. We're all guilty from the time we're born, and what God ought to do is stop us before we ever get going"(p.210). There is no doubt God has let these people down by either not caring, being cruel and spiteful himself, or by just not being there, period. There's "no voice of God making promises a day too late"(p.184).
In conclusion, author Bassoff is not near the plotter Jim Thompson was, nor is he particularly embedded in the traditions of Southern Gothic as exemplified by O'Connor and Faulkner.(2) These are fables cast by promoters hoping for a cash catch. Jon Bassoff is, however, good enough to fish in King's Boo'ya Moon pool(3) for that upcoming, second novel, Factory Town, from the year following.
1) Quentin lifts this mysterious, inner-glowing suitcase from Kiss Me, Deadly, director Aldrich's 1955 climax scene. But I don't think the contents are the same, 'cause, if so, Quentin wouldn't have anything left to say...
3) Stephen King, Lisey's Story, Scribner's, ISBN 0743289412, c.2006, p.224 or go here.