PULP CULTURE: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War by Woody Haut

PULP CULTURE: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War

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Forget the snappy but misleading title: Haut focuses on the paperback originals that took the place of pulp magazines in the period from 1945 to 1963. Contending that hardboiled fiction has rarely been taken seriously by literary criticism ""precisely because it is a class-based literature,"" Haut wants to establish the newly fashionable political credentials of hardboiled writers who, considering American society to be inherently criminal, focus on ""capitalism's relationship to crime, corruption, desire and power."" Hence the darkness of noir fiction echoes the dark underside of the fractured American '50s. Haut, an American journalist living in London, is not especially original about Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Ross Macdonald, Jim Thompson, or Mickey Spillane, all of whom have been put through these paces before. He's much more revealing when he discusses more neglected writers like Leigh Brackett, Dolores Hitchens, and Dorothy B. Hughes (all of whom managed to create complex heroines ""within a culture intent on rendering them powerless""); William McGivern, Gil Brewer, and Lionel White (whose underworld novels mask critiques of the dominant social order); Charles Williams and Charles Willeford (whose later novels subvert the false optimism of the emerging '60s, when pulp fiction would he overtaken by the real-life nightmare of current events). Even here, however, Haut too often strains to pair key novels with irrelevant historical events (McGivern's Odds Against Tomorrow appeared the same year Sputnik was launched) and presses extended plot summaries into service to support historical generalizations as wordy and dubious as anything in the academic criticism he lambastes. Surprisingly, Haut makes a sounder case for pulp fiction's political analysis of American culture than for its central importance to that culture.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Serpent's Tail