Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review : L.A Noire : The Collected Stories (2011)


Order L.A NOIRE: THE COLLECTED STORIES here

I am the master of all I survey. Well, not really. This is Los Angeles, after all. Still, I like to crack that joke with people.

From a distance, Los Angeles is one of the most interesting places in the world. I wouldn't live there, though. It's too polluted with smog, drug addicts and broken dreams. But you can't deny the City of Angels' poetic appeal. Rockstar Games' 2011 hit L.A Noire explored everything its landscape had to offer in its most important period, the post-World War II economic boom. As Rockstar are known in the video game industry as the most legit company (by far),  they decided to honor the genre's literary roots by releasing a short story collection, featuring some of the most badass noirists working today. It was a bold, commercial risk for sure, but as far as product quality is concerned, it is there. 

World War II is historically and sociologically important, because it was the latest period in history where the fate of humanity was openly up for grabs. It may have happened several times since then, but back in 1939, everybody knew the world could radically change. So the post-war boom was a period of hopes and promises, the beginning of a new world, which Los Angeles symbolized. But as ideas often poorly translate into reality, it quickly became the land of a thousand opportunities for suit-wearing bandits. L.A Noire : THE COLLECTED STORIES is about the dark side of the beautiful Californian dream. What there is between you and that vision you have of yourself as major player in L.A.

Megan Abbott's story THE GIRL actually is about a young, gullible, all-american girl trying to navigate her way through a Hollywood party. The deeper she gets into the bowels of the mansion and into the night, she learns to appreciate the true nature of her acting dream, of what it takes to become Carol Lombard or Lana Turner. It's a simple idea that the talented Mrs. Abbott brings to life using the contrast between the idealistic nature of the young girls' Los Angeles dream and the ongoing depravity of the party she's in. Abbott highlights this contrast through details that make her current situation heartbreaking, rather than bizarre. Here is an example.

But June held on to a few small things from when she first came to the City of Dreams. A button from her baby brother's shoes, her first pair of silk stockings, and a deeply felt longing to show someone something sometines. Something inside her that no one else had ever seen.

While I think anybody can relate to this kind of juvenile purity, it makes her account of her Hollywood party all more gut-wrenching as her dream is going up in flame. It was my second favorite story of the collection. The first would be penned by the creator of all-star private eye Matthew Scudder, the legendary Lawrence Block himself. SEE THE WOMAN isn't about a dying dream, but about at dream that's already dead and its illusions, fading away. About a love story that never was and a love story that should never have been. The old-timer vernacular with which Block narrated is what got to me, what perfectly translated the ravaging nature a haunting memory can have on somebody. SEE THE WOMAN is extremely tragic, yet it is seen through the fatalistic rationale of an old timer trying to come to terms with his regrets. 

Both Lawrence Block and Megan Abbott's stories stood out to me, but there wasn't any openly bad stories in the L.A NOIRE : THE COLLECTED STORIES. Some of them did not live up to the others, but were competent stories, like SCHOOL FOR MURDER, by Francine Prose. Which I would have probably appreciated better if it wasn't sandwiched between such strong stories. It did came off as a little cartoonish in this anthology. Duane Swierczynski's HELL OF AN AFFAIR was my third favorite story, yet its playful nature handicapped it next to Block's and Abbott's emotional powerhouses. Joyce Carol Oates' BLACK DAHLIA & WHITE ROSE was L.A NOIRE : THE COLLECTED STORIES' main selling point and as usual, I enjoyed reading JCO. Her idea was bold and reckless. Maybe she would've benefited more breathing room to make it come to life better, but whoever puts Elizabeth Short and Norma Jean Baker on the same page is about as badass a storyteller as it gets. It was a storty worthy of JCO's blotch of ink on the American Dream.

Ladies and gnetlemen, I cannot help, but marvel at artistic integrity. It's just that important to me, that when you write about something, you have to understand it and be able to explain to your reader why it is important. The eight writers of L.A NOIRE : THE COLLECTED STORIES illustrated each one fascinating aspect of L.A : the Hollywood illusion, the American Dream, the overbearing lust, icons, the often desperate acting crowd, the psychological burden of ''making it'', the frequent  confusion between lust and love and finally, the  origins of its criminal underbelly. Fiction is the oldest way man has used to chronicle a bygone era and L.A NOIRE : THE COLLECTED STORIES does just that, as well as any history books could have. I'm not the one to brand values, but integrity and Rockstar Games seems to always go together, no matter what they have in mind.

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