Book 40: Boston Noir – Dennis Lehane (ed.)

I assumed this was a random small collection of short stories as I picked it up for very cheap at the 2010 Boston Book Festival, but this past week I was in a Barnes and Noble (resisting going off on a ridiculous rant about BN) this past week and it was on display with other ‘New Fiction.’

Overall I enjoyed the various short stories, but a lot of them didn’t really connect me to Boston, the feeling of Boston. Quite a few of them took the typical route – through the Irish connection or the crime, but a lot of them were just sort of stories that could have been anywhere else in the world with the change of a few signifying characteristics (and some couldn’t be). With subjects ranging from turn of the (18th) century dockside stories to Catholic priests and child abuse and WWII survivor stories to a financial district murder, they are broad and cover most of the city.

The two stories that stand out most for me are Femme Sole by Dana Cameron and The Cross-Eyed Bear by John Dufresne.

Femme Sole is about an 18th century woman who owns a tavern and has to keep her husband and various local men at bay so that she can continue to make a life in owning the tavern which was left to her. It was craftily written and although some what disgustingly gruesome (only briefly, and it could be a lot worse) is a fascinating short historical fiction story. I would read a full novel based on this one brief interlude.

The Cross-Eyed Bear is a bit contrived in the child-molesting priest genre, but Dufresne freshens the tale a bit by adding a bit of uncertainty within the Father’s own stories and the inability to remember/clarify if something did actually happen while interspersing it with the Father’s history of molestation by his older brother. I’m not sure whether the story helped or hindered the Catholic Church or survivors of similar situations in its allusion to some psychologists(?) belief that the reason priests abuse children is because they are sexually immature due to various constraints from abstinence and their lack of maturation – many having joined the calling at or around puberty.

There were other stories worth mentioning like Jim Fusilli’s The Place He Belongs about a struggling former pop-star who just wants to shake up the status quo on Beacon Hill, to those not worth mentioning (ironically) like Don Lee’s The Oriental Hair Poets about two poets intertwined lives and their strange attachment to and haunting of each other.

Over all I enjoyed it even though I’m still not quite sure what the genre “noir” represents or is for, but I would pick up another in this series which includes other cities like Brooklyn, Portland, Phoenix, Cape Cod, Barcelona, Haiti and Moscow.


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