“Heart-break” is a self-coined term for what is commonly lumped under the general rubric of “Noir”. In my interpretation it refers to a literary sub-genre that sways between ill defined tropes and teems with people in various stages of terminal suffering. These characters wander in ignorance of their needs and desires; victims of their own psychopathology.
When our conscious minds begin to erect barriers between a childs direct sensibilities and our growing sense of denial in order to grow and function in a utilitarian world then things go right or they go terribly wrong.
These lives reek of the intense morning dew of melancholy. The inchoate urges that drive these characters often bear a cloaked heart. Incessant incoherency coats these stumbling lives for they seem to lack any heuristic signposts. A tenebrous aura hovers over their actions and reactions.
The often sub-textual longing exhibited is usually for a redemptive end to a wasted or selfish life. Often these lives are spent causing harm to others and are in need of a touch of grace. These characters rarely seek forgiveness, mostly it is just a chance to do something “good”. This “good” remains poorly defined and usually ends bad for all concerned. But then again this is “Noir”.
These characters are of an extremely rebarbative nature but in the very skilled hands of their creators, they somehow become almost sympathetic to us. Despite a bone weary resignation and a suffocating inevitibility these stories stutter through a series of unfolding actions that morph into an eschatological treatise.
While these are subtle and fleeting emotions I allude to they are best found in a novel’s slow accretion of detail. However they are often found in certain films. From England, usually shrouded in terms of class struggle, we can find fore-runners of this phenomenon. While not “Noir” in nature, such films as “saturday night and sunday morning”, “This sporting life” and “A kind of loving” limn the intense longing to come.
Other films that may be cited are Dustin Hoffmann in “Straight Time”, Jeff Bridges in “American Heart”, Clint Eastwood in “Unforgiven”, and the Al Swearingen character in “Deadwood”. Echos of the sub-genre can also be found in the great masterpiece of Akira Kurosawa, “The Seven Samurai”; a touchstone of the cinematic arts.
While aspects of “Heart-break Noir” can also be found in our culture ranging from Henry Miller to Bob Dylan, I believe their true home is to be found in crime fiction.
James Crumley, the godfather of neo-noir, created one of the finest examples of what I am exploring in the figure of C.W. Shugrue in his seminal novel “The Last Good Kiss”. This book is the mother-lode; A book whose sensibility mirrors the post World War 2 zeitgeist that only intensified after Viet Nam.
There are great difficulties and myriad pitfalls in mining the horribly flawed anti-hero found at the center of “Heart-break Noir”. As the tropes become overused the dangers of cliche and triviality increase. Some authors have found new and original veins to explore and, for me at least, they continue to speak to the power of human yearning and great story telling.
I would offer as examples the following novels. They not only fit my admittedly nebulous criteria for “Heartbreak” but are stunning works of art.
JAMES LEE BURKE “HEAVENS PRISONERS”
DENNIS TAFOYA “DOPE THIEF’
STUART NEVILLE ‘THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST’
NIC PIZZOLATO ‘GALVESTON’
MEGAN ABBOTT ‘THE END OF EVERYTHING’
BARRY GRAHAM “THE WRONG THING’
PETE RISLEY ‘RABID CHILD’
the heart-break of unrequited love and the deep, if misunderstood, longing for human connection are what drives these dark and violent tales. It is in the very crepuscular haze that permeates the pores of these stories that holds me in a grip I cannot escape. For those who seek a reading experience much richer and more intense than the latest crime series on the best seller list, give these titles a try. And remember, the dark beast called “Noir” lurks in us all. How else to explain the enduring call of it’s hellish and heart breaking charms?