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Slaying Genre: Micro-Review of Staten Island Noir

It’s not enough for noir to be dark. It’s got to be bad-ass. Its words, its decaying and horrible beauty have got to hit you like a spiked heel dragged from your guts to your gullet. It’s got to twist the hot knife of passion in that soft space right below your belly while pumping bullets into your heart.

It’s got to make you bleed.

Akashic Books’ latest in their noir series, Staten Island Noir features some dusky and drop-dead gorgeous gems (emphasis on the dead) that do just that.

Edited by Patricia Smith (who writes some of the most soulful, dark-with-the-music-of-life poetry of the 21st century), the anthology includes writers who all live, work, or have some kind of deeply personal connection to Staten, often the forgotten borough of NYC’s fab five.

Staten Island Noir starts of with the threat of corpse choppers, abandoned insane asylums, hate crimes, and unforgivable acts. And mostly it delivers. The autumnal fare served by writer Bill Loefelm in his story, “Snake Hill” pushes us into the driver’s seat of a hit-and-run-and-gun crime between two brothers who have to decide how far they will go to protect one another. It’s the first of a few tales of family fare in the book (because a betrayal by someone who is supposed to love and protect you is so much more disturbing than the standard stranger business deal gone wrong). And its success, for me, is due in large part to its use of the first person--through this point of view, I am the brother in the driver’s seat who must negotiate the turns of the story and I’m also the reader who is surprised by how easily the narrator, the more reliable character in the story, can decentralize my expectations.

The first person also goes a long way in “A User’s Guide to  Keeping Your Kills Fresh,” a twisty tale by Ted Anthony. For most of the story, we have no idea who the narrator is, and it’s the way in which the “I” constantly eludes us that keeps the tension going and us reading (that and an amazingly boneheaded protagonist who just can’t seem to get his hits right).

There is a lot of awesome in terms of setting in SIN: pox-infested shanties, incinerating insane hospitals, punk-cum-synth-pop discos and clubs (and yes, CBGB, we cry for your every single day, no matter which borough we live in), the stink and bone landfill, and, of course, the ferry, the drunk by the light of the moon and the brine of the ocean.

In some cases, the tales are a bit too pat and end too soon, rely on the sickly sweetness of neighborhood nostalgia instead of the punch that really smashes the cheekbone.

The glue that holds the entire collection together is the editor’s own contribution, a knife-twist in the boiling blood of your heart story called, “When They Are Done With Us.” I say glue because it’s the jewel that reminds the reader that noir isn’t rehashed boilerplate with a side of jargon. It’s a living and breathing world where many of us hang our hats.

In Smith’s story, we get hardboiled noir reinvented in the hardcore language of the real. The protagonist, Jo, deals with an abusive son, and with her life as a women living downtrodden, by penning poetry. This poetry becomes the new language of noir, the frightful truths that are splayed out fearlessly. Poetic lines haunt mothers and women in this story who are ruled and pushed over an edge by hard and horrible men. The story asks the difficult questions:  when the only answer is the answer that is both loving and terrible, how do you choose it? How do you choose to live rather than just survive?

Smith writes:

“Where did it seep into you,
the ghost of the only answer?
How did you pull it in,
breathe it in, own it?
How did you find the teeth
you needed to take back your
own body, to build a revolution
in darkness?”

The answer: build a revolution in darkness. Powerful and dark stuff.

You can read for yourself by clicking here.

*A slightly different version of this micro-review appeared on my alter ego's blog: zoemore.blogspot.com.

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About the Author

KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira

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