Guest Blog: Some Thoughts on Blue Collar Noir by Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks head shot-cropped (2)When my first noir novel Miami Purity came out in ‘95, with its graphic and multitudinous sex scenes, it was described as lurid in such a way, especially in the UK, that you could almost visualize reviewers licking their lips. The world was ready for the explicit sex James M. Cain couldn’t write in his day—not that his novels suffered any for lack of it. The heavy dose of sex in Miami Purity put a new spin on the noir genre, finding a new audience. Noir fiction continues to evolve and remake itself while the underlying themes remain similar to naturalist literature of the late 19th Century. Crime-noir protagonists are still basically like characters in the works of writers like Dreiser and Crane, formed through inescapable forces of heredity and environment, confined by class and lack of opportunity, but with the traditional noir enhancement of committing murder as a way of breaking out of their predicament. Of course, it never works!

The latest evolution of noir, sometimes called blue-collar noir, fits the classic noir/naturalist definition without the necessity of murder. Manslaughter and misdemeanor thrive, as survival tactics, rather than the fantasized ticket to wealth most often associated with murder. Coal miners, sanitation workers, and other outliers of the American Dream, neglected by the literary mainstream (except in the South) have come into the limelight as protagonists in the current blue-collar inspired remaking of noir. Noir characters can never climb out of the pit, by definition, but current noir writers don’t necessarily believe that people are stuck at a low station in life, as the naturalist novelists did, though rising in status ain’t never easy. We read to see these bold, raw humans reach resignation, minor epiphanies, or an elevation of spirit.

Voluntary Madness final cover 55-a (1)Years ago, the poet Charles Bukowski defined the “blue-collar noir” category infamously, without giving it a genre name.  At Noircon 2014 (held every other year in Philadelphia), the debut of the anthology Stray Dogs: Writing from the Other America highlighted contemporary writers of blue-collar noir: Willy Vlautin, Daniel Woodrell, Sherman Alexie, Eric Miles Williamson, Ron Cooper, Joseph D. Haske, Michael Gillis, and me, among others. Paul Allen, Mark Safranko, Dan Fante, and Matthew McBride are also recent, noteworthy writers whose work arguably falls into this blue-collar evolution of the noir sensibility. Evie Wyld does great blue-collar, murderless noir in Australia. Wherever you’ve got a working man or a man out of work (or woman), you’ve got the makings of the newest noir: hard-nosed, hard-hitting, and relevant to our society because of its realism.

My novel Voluntary Madness, which just came out in a reissue from New Pulp Press, features manslaughter in the Hemingway House. And Fur People, my newest novel, is filled with misdemeanors—crimes due to poverty and animal hoarding. These novels take place in Florida, the un-southernmost southernmost state. They take their inspiration from traditional noir but seek to extend the range of this ever-changing and vital genre.

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