Sunday, March 25, 2007

Interesting literary series

One Sunday when I was uncharacteristically free to wander around a Barnes & Noble (actual not virtual), I spotted a very interesting fiction series, "Femmes Fatales," published by the Feminist Press at the City University of New York. The series consists of selected pulp or genre novels written by female authors in the 1930s through the 1950s. So far I've read two, both of which were made into famous (but much less interesting) movies: Dorothy Hughes' "In a Lonely Place" and Vera Caspary's "Laura." Both are among the best detective/mystery/murder genre fiction that I've ever read; usually I find the genre tolerable but boring.

Give the Feminist Press credit, even if their forewords and afterwords are a bit predictable in exactly the academic vein would expect. The female writer's perspective in these two novels genuinely makes them much more interesting than they would otherwise be. (Plus, these appear to be particularly inspired outings by generally capable writers.) "In a Lonely Place" is far darker than the Humphrey Bogart movie - narrated by a male serial killer of women but not the misogynistic genre exercise one would expect from that. Also one of the best uses I can remember of the unreliable narrator device. "Laura" is less extreme, but also much fuller than the admittedly atmospherically effective Preminger film. Good use of multiple narrators, interesting twists even if one knows them from the movie. Laura is a single woman pursuing a career, not getting married as soon as she is supposed to, and surrounded by manipulative, immature men. The murder plot is a device (although a very good one) rather than the subject of real interest, notwithstanding the twists and suspense.

I like to vary my reading, so at the moment I'm embarked on the Rory Stewart book about walking through Afghanistan, but I will probably return to this series soon.

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