Tuesday, June 7, 2022

The Expendable Man

   Published in Medium by Amy Welborn:

When we think of the noir genre of literature, we think of the big names — Chandler, Hammett, Macdonald, Cain ….. all male.
But there are female noir authors as well — and one of the best was Dorothy B. Hughes. The first Hughes novel I read, a few years back was the excellent The Expendable Man.

No, it wasn’t high literature, but it is a well-written noir of sorts, penned in 1963. Dorothy B. Hughes was a journalist who wrote 14 novels, the most-well known of which is probably In a Lonely Place, which was made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.
One of the reasons it’s good to read not-high literature from the past is that it gives you a different sort of historical insight. It’s very difficult to construct an even halfway accurate portrait of the past given the limitations of evidence and the power of presentism.
For me, fiction and travel literature add to the picture. I’ve taken to read a lot of older — 19th-mid 20th century- travel literature to read what writers have to say about the Catholic culture and practices of the places they visit.
So in this book, without giving too much away, the issues at hand are racial attitudes and abortion. I wouldn’t read too much about the book before reading it — there’s an element of surprise that makes the first part of the book a somewhat Sixth Sense sort of experience: you say, ah — and have to go back and re-read with the new-to-you information in mind. I know it sounds gimmicky, but it’s really not, and Hughes’ treatment of her initially-hidden information is interesting and subtle.