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84Rocky Mountain Review book both a primer of Weimar obsessions, evasions, and mythologies and a template for contemporary critical analysis. MICHAEL WINKLER Rice University WILLIAM MARLING. The American Roman Noir: Hammett, Cain, and Chandler. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1995. 306 p. William Marling's The American Roman Noir will please two groups of readers and disappoint another set of readers. Culture freaks, eager to hear technological devices speak louder than rocks, will be gratified, and closereading junkies who worry the design in the carpet of narrative will be engaged . On the other hand, film noir addicts can anticipate frustration. First, the bad news. The American Roman Noir looks like an addition to the canon of film noir studies, but it is not. At a distance, say on the University of Georgia's display table at MLA, even its physical appearance makes a cinematic statement. The book is dressed in a smart dust jacket made from a wraparound still from MGM's 1946 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice; it shows Lana Turner framed by the light and shadow of a window, clearly the blonde personification of Cain's "wish come true," while John Garfield, seated in a wheelchair, endures his fate in the shadows . I know we don't judge a book by its cover, but this is such a pretty thing that one may not discover that it has but one short chapter on film noir, said to be a "coda," until after it's personal property. Now, the good news. The American Roman Noir looks like an addition to the canon of film noir studies, but it is not. In truth, the shelf of film noir studies already holds some critical works of recent vintage, such as Joan Copjec's Shades ofNoir and Ann Kaplan's Women in Film Noir. Therefore, readers and teachers of the dark novel may welcome Marling's book. Instead of a film study, Marling has given readers a valuable, if sometimes a mite obscure, close reading of the dark novels of Hammett, Cain, and Chandler, a genre he chooses to denominate roman noir. In this genre he discovers a representation of the American psyche's experience with technology and "unprecedented" economic change, an experience which caused a "shift from synecdochical to m├ętonymie values" (xii). He explains what he means by this shift in chapters 1 and 2, wherein he initiates his weaving of the myth-like design encoded within the roman noir. In his autobiography, The Hidden Files, Derek Raymond, a British writer of crime fiction, defined the black novel as "a means of destroying evil by defining it, by demonstrating everything in our society that is negative," while also citing the Bible as a source of black writing (144). With good purpose , also, Marling turns to the Old Testament for the story of the Prodigal Son in order to propose his own design, the "fabula," for defining the American black novel as a narrative about prodigality, a theme reoccurring in American literature from its beginnings, as he demonstrates with the Book Reviews85 captivity of Mary Rowlandson. Thus, he finds the detective novel to be "spot on" for a correspondence between theme, the Prodigal's Tale, and the narrative of the crime story, with its "clash of the rough and smooth" (133). The decision of Hammett, Cain, and Chandler, he says, "to ally the fabula of prodigality with the detective novel owes to a correspondence in story structure that narrative analysis makes clear: both contain a narrative of deterioration embedded within a greater narrative of improvement" (xii). Close readers will discover much here to engage their attention as they follow the author's weaving of his "fabula" among the novels of Hammett, Cain, and Chandler in chapters 3, 4, and 5. Chapter 2, however, belongs to culture enthusiasts, as will be clear from the first sentence: "Most explanations of the impact of technology center on artifacts and the continuity of their development, not explaining gaps or failures or including cultural values" (39). This chapter will then use a model which integrates technology and its materials with Marling's conceptualizing of the economy during the 1930s. By focussing on artifacts...


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pp. 84-85
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