There’s a chuckle or a laugh in every one of Chapman's noir-tinged stories.

EVERYDAY NOIR

A tongue-in-cheek mapping of the mean streets of suburbia.

In Chapman’s (The Supremes’ Greatest Hits, 2010, etc.) latest, 31 short stories mostly set in and around the greater Boston area illustrate the author’s contention that “noir is where you find it.” The conventions of the sub-genre familiar to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe are mostly omitted—no guns, no drugged cocktails, no torture (except for the kind involving in-laws)—but the noir sensibility and diction are on display on each page of Chapman’s book. Colonial-style suburban homes, security guards, notary publics, bored housewives (including one who’s a bat), special agents tasked with collecting overdue lunch money—all given the noir treatment. The conceit is saved from becoming tiresome by Chapman’s fleet plotting (the stories average about five pages in length) and sure comic touch. In “Art Van Stiffel, Deciduous Tree Lawyer,” a new client is described as being “stacked like a concrete grain silo, without the dust and the pickup trucks parked outside and the risk of fatal explosion.” In “Fallen Women 101,” a college-campus pimp warns the hapless protagonist, “No rough stuff…I got to protect my investment. Besides, plain vanilla garden variety pedagogy is your best prostitution value.” In the collection’s best story, “Read My Lips, or Simply Refer to the Subtitles,” a man hires a specialist to provide subtitles for his interactions with his family, which doesn’t go over well with his loved ones: “You could cut the tension with one of those dull but fancy cheese knives women buy each other when they run out of gift ideas.” It’s ordinary suburban life that’s being satirized here, not noir, but the satire is light and gentle in any case. 

There’s a chuckle or a laugh in every one of Chapman's noir-tinged stories.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468138979

Page Count: 331

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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