A shrewd, illuminating, and entertaining exploration of the twisted roots of writerly creativity.

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Hard-Boiled Anxiety


Behind the gangsters, corrupt plutocrats, stoic gumshoes, and femmes fatales hovers Dr. Sigmund Freud, who masterminds the mayhem in classic private-eye stories, according to this study in Freudian lit-crit.

Like a shrink decoding a patient’s dreams, Karydes reads the roiling imagery of sex, violence, and betrayal in the stories and novels of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald in light of these authors’ own troubled family histories. Thus, Hammett’s strained, guilty relationship with his ne’er-do-well father and his mother, who had to shoulder the family’s responsibilities, works its way into idyllic scenes of a neophyte detective and the fatherly boss who mentors him and darker stories of scornful wives turning on failed husbands. Chandler’s clingy mother and self-loathing homosexuality are transformed into sexually voracious women and eye-popping male beauties who beguile his lonely hero, Philip Marlowe. Macdonald’s even clingier, schizophrenic mom appears in his novels in a series of quasi-incestuous relationships between older women and younger men. Freudian interpretations are a natural for private investigator stories. The detective plays the hard-pressed ego, charged with guarding a moralistic superego, embodied in the social establishment, against the underworld’s idlike forces—only to discover in the disillusioning climax that these polar opposites have always been in bed together. Karydes’ take on that critical approach in this debut book, complete with lengthy quotes from psychiatrists and occasionally rote diagnostics—“the Electra complex…is axiomatic in the development of girls”—is sometimes a bit too heavy-handed in its psychoanalytic orthodoxy. Her hero is Macdonald for his long bouts of analysis, his confessional memoir, which she rediscovered and cites extensively, and his self-conscious deployment of Oedipal conflicts throughout his books (“Fathers in Macdonald’s best novels fail to protect their sons by leaving them to mothers who then treat their sons like husbands”). Still, Karydes discusses this gnarly material in a vivid, accessible style that yields cleareyed and sympathetic insights into these authors’ lives and captures the seething psychological power in their works.

A shrewd, illuminating, and entertaining exploration of the twisted roots of writerly creativity.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9909380-6-4

Page Count: 226

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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


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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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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