“Long Island Noir”
Edited by Kaylie Jones
Akashic Books, $15.95
What exactly is noir? The French film critics who coined the label for a particular string of ’50s hard-boiled American melodramas such as “Double Indemnity” described it as “oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel.” I also think noir, be it movie or story, needs to create a certain discomfort, an unease that doesn’t come with a straightforward thriller or whodunit.
“Long Island Noir,” an anthology of short stories edited by Kaylie Jones, presents some good examples of noir, some noir lite, and a couple of cheerfully transgressive romps that barely make it to gris.
One of the latter is “The Shiny Car in the Night” by Nick Mamatas, about a Northport mafia family whose lives have been colored by Jack Kerouac, who used to play pool in Gunther’s Tap Room there. The tension builds and nudges the story inexorably toward the inevitable noir conclusion but then, just as you grit your teeth for the concluding blow, it whips around and surprises you. Just what a short story should be.
I mention this piece first because you might want to save it for last, to clear the palate after a pretty dark story menu — a little lemon sorbet after a kilo of squid ink risotto, say.
Take Jules Feiffer’s six-page cartoon, “Boob Noir.” Because Mr. Feiffer’s work and voice are so instantly recognizable, you stride unwarily into the cartoon frames, only to be brought up short by their very different tone, the unsettling feeling that something is not quite right. . . . And it’s not.
There’s a moving story by Dr. Qanta Ahmed, who is an associate professor of medicine at the State University at Stony Brook, about an abused Pakistani girl in an arranged marriage. Related by the doctor who has treated her, a Muslim woman from a similar background who has found a very different path in life, it is full of fresh and vivid detail about hospitals and the hidden world of Muslims in America.
Another from an insider’s point of view is “Jabo’s” by Amani Scipio, about life along the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in the 1970s, a tiny enclave that might have been on the moon for all the interaction it had with the rest of the South Fork. That this convincing and harrowing tale comes to a rather inconclusive end leaves one wondering just how much of it was fiction.
“Long Island Noir” is part of a series that includes “Orange County Noir” and “Istanbul Noir” and 50 other similar titles — and with another 10 titles in the works there seems to be no end in sight. This one has police harassment in Southampton, a petty criminal in Nesconset with a master plan, a serial loser in Wantagh who is going to put his life right with just one last desperate gamble, and Jane Ciabattari showing us that it really helps to be technically brilliant when planning revenge-by-Internet on a former partner.
In most short-story collections, there’s often a dog or two, and “Long Island Noir” is no exception (there’s one that, since we’re all in the noirish mode, makes you want to put the author’s feet in a bucket of cement and dump it off the Port Jefferson ferry), but over all the quality is high and the stories entertaining.
Above all, speaking as one who now lives very far away from Long Island, what I enjoyed was the unconscious familiarity of the authors with their particular little pizza slice of the Island: Steven Wishnia’s Nicholls Road strip mall housing a “deli, Chinese takeout, paint store, RE/MAX real-estate office, a vacant Pilates gym, and the Dos Grandes Varones bar” where without a car you are trapped, Charles Salzberg’s seedy Long Beach boardwalk hotels and faux-Mediterranean houses originally built for “white Anglo-Saxon Protestants” only, and of course the striving, greedy, neurotic Hamptons themselves.
As Kaylie Jones puts it in her introduction, “The American dream of suburban bliss has never died, only grown more desperate, more materialistic, and less romantic as it has shoved its way further east, until now there is literally nowhere left to go.”
Kaylie Jones, who lived in Sagaponack for many years, teaches in the M.F.A. program in creative writing and literature at Stony Brook Southampton.
Sheridan Sansegundo, a former arts editor at The Star, lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.