I can't say I didn't see this one coming. When I reviewed Allan Guthrie's new novel Hard Man back in February, I said this book would disconcert people and probably put off many readers. I almost referenced movies like Saw or Hostel in the review, but I ended up skipping that. Eddie Muller, however, has made the connection in his review in the San Francisco Chronicle.
This review comes on the heels of Kevin Burton Smith's commentary "Neo-Nah," which has inspired a great deal of discussion on blogs and the Rara Avis mailing list. To summarize, Smith finds a lot of what passes as noir these days tasteless and sadistic. While Smith has refused to name names so far, I'm going to go ahead and guess that Hard Man is one of the books he's complaining about.
Al Guthrie has posted a response to both the Chron review and Smith comments at his blog. He also talks about his influences. I'm gonna say straight out that I find Guthrie's taste in movies somewhat questionable. (Ichi the Killer?) I don't think that Hard Man is torture porn, however. As I said in my review, the books owes a lot to Jacobean drama, and Jacobean drama was a bloody mess. You don't believe me, read The Duchess of Malfi some time.
Ugly violence alone doesn't make or break a story. King Lear, which I consider the greatest work ever written in English, has an on-screen eye gouging that's still pretty shocking, even in our violence soaked culture. While Hard Man is hardly Shakespeare, it isn't torture porn either.
And let me say, while I'm on the topic, that I think Smith should name names. The thing about art is it's entirely subjective, so no intellectually honest person can stay angry at you for long if you say you don't like their work.
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