Thursday, October 22, 2009

Boston Noir

What a great article by Peter Keough in the Phoenix about Boston Noir.
When I was growing up in Roslindale a few decades back — among tribes of ignorant, second-generation immigrant kids whose favorite words began with “f” and “n” and who liked to torture small animals and beat up small children before they moved on to their future vocations as petty criminals, dead dope users, or real-estate agents — it didn’t occur to me that this was a setting rich in literary and cinematic potential.

Now with films like "Mystic River" and "The Departed", there is a Boston Noir look - low cloudy skies, closed-in streets lined with triple-decker houses, dark clothes. And now a book, Boston Noir, to be launched on Saturday at the Boston Book Festival by writers including Dennis Lehane.

Like everything Boston related, there is more than a little bit of Irish influence in Boston Noir. I've always thought that Seamus Heaney's poem "Whatever you say, say nothing" reminds me of parts of Boston as much as the north of Ireland:
Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:
Manoeuverings to find out name and school,
Subtle discrimination by addresses
With hardly an exception to the rule
And, from the same poem, this next piece was originally written about northern Irish Nationalists. They were "besieged within the siege" - besieged within the larger Unionist population, who themselves felt under siege in Ireland as a whole. And, figuratively hiding, they were like the Greeks whispering to each other in the Wooden Horse of Troy. But recently it makes me think of the working class Irish neighbourhoods of Boston, themselves feeling "besieged within the siege" of other minority groups who themselves would feel under siege in America as a whole.
Where half of us, as in a wooden horse
Were cabin'd and confined like wily Greeks,
Besieged within the siege, whispering morse.
All of which makes for paranoia, suspicion, tribalism, and, of course, noir. I'll try to head down to the Boston Public Library on Saturday to get a copy of Boston Noir.

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