Both A Kiss Before Dying (KBD) and The Grifters are examples of what William Marling has called the American roman noir. Noir in this instance echoes another genre, film noir, and refers to a whole repertoire of narrative elements including settings, characters, plot devices, and diction. More generally it signifies a degraded moral condition and a pessimistic, even deterministic, view of the world. The noir universe is one where dark impulses drive action and appearances are often deceptive. Though romans noir often play out in the demimonde— cheap bars, casinos, shabby boardinghouses, etc.– moral darkness also pervades sun-struck suburban streets and opulent penthouses.
“All the Plays and Interludes, which after the Manner of the French Court, had been set up, and began to encrease among us, were forbid to Act; the gaming Tables, publick dancing Rooms, and Music Houses which multiply’d, and began to debauch the Manners of the People, were shut up and suppress’d; and the Jack-puddings, Merry-andrews, Puppet-shows, Rope-dancers, and such like doings, which had bewitch’d the poor common People, shut up their Shops, finding indeed no Trade; for the Minds of the People were agitated with other Things; and a kind of Sadness and Horror at these Things, sat upon the Countenances, even of the common People; Death was before their Eyes, and every Body began to think of their Graves, not of Mirth and Diversions.”
–Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)
The Girl Ch. 17 page 72:
I had got desires now. It all broke on my tongue like some wild sweet fruit. As if my bark was breaking in spring, or mama rising in me, telling me how the flesh can die, be beaten and lost. I felt a great root springing down and a great blossom springing up, like my hair sprang out of my skull green, or a terrible root went into the dark with a hundred mouths looking for food.
Charles Portis. 1933-2020.
David Fulton, writing as Jack Thorne, also wrote a novel about the Wilmington Coup, titled Hanover (5mb pdf). He worked as a journalist for the Daily Record, Wilmington’s Black newspaper, where Alexander Manly’s “inflammatory” editorial first appeared. The issue concerned what Angela Davis has called the myth of the Black rapist (see this pdf: MythBRCh11).
“Women of that race (white),” Manly wrote, “are not any more particular in the matter of clandestine meetings with colored men than are the white men with colored women. Meetings of this kind go on for some time until the woman’s infatuation, or the man’s boldness, bring attention to them, and the man is lynched for rape. Every Negro lynched is called a ‘big burly, black brute,’ when in fact many of those who have thus been dealt with had white men for their fathers, and were not only not ‘black’ and ‘burly’ but were sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them as is very well known to all.”
Consult Sundquist’s introduction for further information.
Below is an excerpt from Hanover which captures some of the flavor of white supremacist ideology:
You can read the full interview in this pdf: An_Interview_with_J._G._Ballard
Here’s a documentary on Ballard that I haven’t screened yet:
Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms
This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote a long time ago. You may find it useful in thinking about VATB, but it’s not required reading.
Frank Norris and the Naturalist Romance
Norris advertised his work as a hybrid of two overlapping and loosely construed modes of American fiction. The American novel would become true to its national-cultural context when realism’s concern with mimetic accuracy fused with romance’s search for the deeper human truths residing beneath social surfaces. As he indicated in several oft-cited short essays, Emile Zola modeled this synthesis– though significantly Norris drew inspiration from Zola’s novels rather than criticism such as “The Experimental Novel.” In his seldom neglected aesthetic statement, “A Plea for Romantic Fiction,” Norris nominates Zola as “the very head of the Romanticists” (216), an office he elevates well above the station of writers of “borrowed, faked, pilfered romanticisms” (“An American School of Fiction?” 196). The “mere sentimentalism” of the former, he asserts, their implicitly dishonest (and effeminate) literary domesticity, has been misidentified with romance proper (213). A genre with profound cultural– even racio-civilizational– significance, Norris argues, romance has been travestied, transformed into “a conjurer’s trick-box” stuffed with “flimsy quackeries, tins and claptraps” intended merely “to amuse, and relying on deception” (214). In a gesture of repudiation comprehending both popular-historical romances and fictions propagating “false views of life,” Norris clears the ground for American literature not in order to claim its autochthonous origins but on the contrary to execute an inheritance (“Responsibilities of the Novelist” 11).