Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Noir At The Bar

A few weeks ago, through gracious generosity of writer Chris La Tray, I was able to score a copy of Noir At The Bar, an anthology featuring pulpy, noirish and downright decadent short stories from a plethora of accomplished writers who specialize in this smash mouth style of writing.

If you click on the link, the first thing that shocks your senses is the cover, which features a pissed off woman ventilating a guy. The second thing that will shock you are the jacket blurbs, because they ain't your typical run-of-the-mill bland praises to the high heavens. They are more in the vein of what the editors clearly state about their book (with tongue planted firmly in cheek):

Come on in and please grab yourself a drink or two before we start, you'll want to brace yourself for those stories of crime and transgression from the scourge of St. Louis's literate.
Now as most of you know, I am very much a Johnny-come-lately to the short story scene. It wasn't until I started to both serious up with my writing and my blogging in 2008 that I began to step outside my comfort zone for preferred genres of reading. I got my toes wet, so to speak, by first reading stories by Charles Gramlich and David Cranmer, then went full immersion by reading Beat To A Pulp (see review for their anthology here), which became my boot camp for reading/appreciating noir fiction/crime fiction short stories.

Which pretty much makes me a newbie with an open mind. And as a newbie with an open mind, the rest of this review will be written from that point of view (person who likes to read + writer who doesn't write in that particular genre = newbie with an open mind).

This anthology grabs you by the neck and pinches your brain the second you get past the forward and read the first story "Gunpowder and Aluminum Foil" by Matthew McBride, and it doesn't let go until you finish the last story (which I think is pretty cool) "Vampires Are Pussies" by Chris La Tray.

Now that isn't to say that the entire book isn't one long steady brain pinch. There are a few times in the book where the pincers loosen their grip because the story doesn't quite make sense ("Ballad of Larry Plank" by Derek Nikitas, "The Morning After" by Jedidiah Ayres and "Five Revelations Concerning Jenny As Told To Maura C. By A Compassionate Angel" by Laura Benedict), but overall the pincers apply the pressure until the very end.

One thing that I'd found interesting, is that a writer can always redeem himself/herself in the eyes of a reader. I mentioned previously that there was a story in the Beat To A Pulp anthology called "Acting Out" that I simply did not like. However, that same writer has a story in this anthology called "Deviances" that I found so endlessly fascinating that it makes me wish that he wrote more of that particular character.

I did find one story in the book incredibly disturbing. Even though it was well written, it focused on a topic that the average person doesn't have contact with unless they see it on the t.v. news. The topic of choice had to do with religious cults, and after I had read it, it left both a sour taste in my mouth and a memory that I couldn't quite shake for the rest of the day.

However, my personal feelings about that story does not take away one iota from the fact that this book is not only an excellent read, but a fantastic sampler for someone who is looking to expand their reading horizons into other genres. This book will not let you down and in fact it will probably make you search out other stories/books written by these gifted writers.


  1. This sounds excellent, G. I'll check it out!

  2. I have this but haven't read it yet. Now it'll move up on my list!

  3. That's interesting that the one story left you with the sour taste - I always think things like that must be well-written if they have that effect.

  4. Mama Z: It's a pretty good sampler for the crime fiction genre. If I had the time, I probably could have read it in one sitting.

    Charles: It's definitely worth the money. I would've been more than happy to pay the full price for it because I would've gotten major bang for the buck.

    Lynn: Don't get me wrong, that particular story was well written. The topic of choice left both a sour taste and a visual that I couldn't shake. In spite my personal distaste for that story, I still recommend it as good starting point for someone who isn't familiar with that genre.

  5. Great review, I'll have to give it a closer look.

  6. Pat: Thanks.

    I always try to write my reviews from the newbie point of view, as opposed to someone who really likes the genre.

    I'm a finicky reader and if there's something that I don't like, I'll let people know. But I will let them know that it's my own personal opinion and that they should check it out for themselves.

  7. Thanks for the review, G! Much appreciated.

    Oh, and I seem to be able to bring up your blog and comment on it just fine if I do it from the Mac. . . .

  8. Chris: Glad you enjoyed the review. I do like sharing my opinion on books (and stories) that I like.

    Also Glad you were able to solve the problem of commenting by doing it on a Mac. Perhaps that could be a viable solution to those other blogs that you were having problems with.


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