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Before I read this collection, I thought that I knew what “noir” was all about. My touch points were Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett — anything with a private detective, booze, and a dangerous dame.

Reading New Jersey Noir, I came across pieces that didn’t seem to be classic noir…..because my definition was too limited. At it’s broadest and most literal, noir is dark.

Doing research for this review, I came across a fabulous site that aims to define and explore ALL that is “noir”. Chad de Lisle, creator of www.noirwhale.com has identified nine possible requirements for noir in any media (no one work need have them all):

  • The Seedy Underworld
  • The Anti-Hero
  • The Femme Fatale
  • Misogyny
  • Redemption
  • Loss of Innocence
  • Eroticism
  • Racism
  • Smoke
  • Emasculation

A good place to start in the study of a genre that is defined, in part, by the intangible. In the Introduction to New Jersey Noir, Joyce Carol Oates suggests that,

Noir isn’t subject matter so much as sensibility, a tone, an atmosphere. Noir is both a metaphor and the actual – raw, ravishing – thing. Noir is the essence of mystery: that which cannot be “solved.” Most of all, noir is a place – “a certain slant of light” – in which a betrayal will occur.

The stories and poetry in New Jersey Noir are dotted geographically around “The Garden State”, demonstrate the mood that Oates describes, and meet quite a few of de Lisle’s” requirements.

I found them to be emotionally deep, thought-provoking, disturbing, and, in a few instances, humorous. I encourage you to enjoy this well-crafted collection with the warning that you may find yourself in a bit of a noir “funk” afterwards. Personally, I felt like opening the windows, letting the sun back in, and picking something cheerier for my next read.

I should tell you that, if New Jersey is not your home, so to speak, the publisher of New Jersey Noir, Akashic Books, has at least 30 other similarly titled collections with focuses around Baltimore, Manhattan, D.C., London, Dublin, Philadelphia, Queens, etc. See the full list HERE.

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