Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hard Boiled Sentimentality

I've been kind of lazy this week in terms of blogging. It's been a combination of issues with my Internet provider and real life issues of consequence that must be attended to, so there will be no book review, or deep thoughts on anything this week. I can, however, give you a book recommendation. I have, in my spare time, started reading Leonard Cassuto's Hard-Boiled Sentimentality. Cassuto, a professor at Fordham University, advances the thesis that the hard-boiled heroes who emerged in the Twenties and Thirties owe a debt to the sentimental fiction of the Nineteenth Century (think Harriet Beecher Stowe). I'm about halfway through the book right now, and my impression so far is that Cassuto has oversold his thesis, but you can say that about 99 percent of literary criticism. Cassuto seems to put a lot of stock in the fact that hard-boiled fiction often deals with personal and familial relationships, as does sentimental fiction. Of course, all fiction deals with personal relationships, so I stand less than convinced that Harriet influenced Hammett.

There is, though, a lot of good stuff. Cassuto's analysis of The Maltese Falcon is particularly trenchant and timely, as he discusses the book in light of the Great Depression. As he frames it, the mad hunt for the black bird is a metaphor for the rampant stock speculation that occurred before the big crash. I found this particularly interesting given my interest in how crime fiction and capitalism coexist, given the fact that our economy seems to be crumbling around us.

His section on Jim Thompson is also well worth reading as Cassuto takes on The Getaway, which is a novel about trust, and Thompson's most important work, where he takes the romantic idea of the debonair, lone wolf criminal to it's logical conclusion.

Perhaps I will have more to say once I've plowed through the rest of the book. Until then, you can read Sarah Weinman's review at the LA Times.

No comments: