Net One R8


ltmo145d
suspense fiction
earl jackson, jr.
fall 1998


Response One/Eight
 
 


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Earl’s comments in

GREEN

Date: Friday, October 16, 1998 23:58:31

 


Defining the genre within which Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, and Jim Thompson write would be a much simpler task if we were to dub it „Subversive Fiction“ rather than „Suspense“.

[interesting] The novels of Thompson and Highsmith in particular are far more resonant in their affectionate [I’ll buy that Highsmith’s portrayal of Ripley is affectionate, but certainly can’t agree about Thompson’s portrayal of his psychos. They may be interior portraits and even first-personal testimonials but there’s nothing remotely affectionate about them, or even empathetic, really.] portrayals of the amoral protagonist than in their ability, or lack thereof, to put their reader on edge (jouissance?). [This run on sentence lets a logical warp slip in at the end. Reread it and if you don’t see what I mean, ask me] This is precisely what intrigues me the most about these writers (I’m including Woolrich now); their gleeful reveling in putting white hats on characters who would make obvious villains in more conventional fiction [None of Thompson’s narrating-killers are portrayed as „heroes.“ The protagonist of Rendezvous in Black is not the „hero“ of the novel. It doesn’t have one. The people Woolrich romanticizes are the moonstruck victims, not the killer. Rethink this, and rethink what you mean by „subversive.“ I find it difficult to see what is being subverted, even if I concurred with your thesis that the killers are made into heroes.]. All three writers are masterful in their display of reader manipulation, smashing our expectations at every possible turn [Non-sequitur].

Trying to pigeonhole „Suspense Fiction“ in the context of these novels is difficult for me

[Mixed metaphor; as the genre category, „suspense fiction“ would be the pigeon hole, and the texts the objects to be fit into it. You have it reversed. Besides this, the problem seems a strawperson. Why posit that the texts belong to the suspense genre if you don’t think they fit? And thirdly, if it is the texts and the expectations they cumulatively form that constitutes a genre, how could the texts you’ve chosen from which to develop a description of the genre, not fit?] mainly because I feel that some of them, while brilliant in their own right, fail to generate any real suspense [Your argument here suffers from operating on unacknowledged {and uninterrogated} assumptions. Nowhere above do you posit as a necessary or sufficient condition for „suspense“ genre, the generation of the affect of suspense in the reader.].

Most puzzling to me in this area is Highsmith’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. For this story to be suspenseful

[unexamined assumptions again – this is not part of your explicit theory towards a definition of „suspense“ and therefore introducing this to make a conclusive point derails you.], the reader would have to care one way or the other about what happens to Tom Ripley; we’d have to care about whether or not he „gets away with it“, murdering Dickie Greenleaf. To Highsmith’s credit, I HAVE heard many say that they wanted Tom to get away with it;that they liked Tom; that they found him to be a „charming“ murderer. Imyself felt no such affection for Tom Ripley.

While smooth and collectedon the outside („charming“ feels like a stretch), Tom is irrefutably abitter, self-hating, paranoid jumble of insecurities on the inside; not a character we (or – I should probably keep this – „I“) usually root for

[The generic credentials of a text does not depend upon the moral judgment it elicits from a reader.].

However, it is imperative that I add that I wasn’t exactly rooting against him either, possibly because Highsmith gives us nobody else – the figures of Dickie and Marge seem pretty close to cardboard when viewed in conjunction with the many dimensions of Tom

[This is a good point]– and while I can’t say I ever truly liked Tom during the novel, the inner-workings of his character mesmerize [That’s the point! That’s more important than liking or disliking]. He is easily one of the richest and most original „paraliterary“ creations I have had the pleasure of reading, and although I never really found THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY to be suspenseful, as an in-depth character study, it is always compelling. [Good ending to the paragraph. But next paper move away from „like it/dislike it“ to a fully engaged analysis.]

I feel similarly about the two Jim Thompson novels I’ve read thus far, THE KILLER INSIDE ME and HELL OF A WOMAN. Especially in the Lou Ford story, the most compelling element is the extremely dark and disturbing rendering of human psychosis („the sickness“) rather than the intricate pins and needles of the book’s plotline

[Yes, exactly]. My feelings about Lou Ford were far less ambivalent than my feelings about Tom Ripley [Novels are not popularity contests for their characters. Tighten up the focus of the next essay. These axes: like/dislike, likable character/dislikable are what we look for in book reports. A critical paper in college in no way resembles a book report.], however; without a doubt, I wanted him caught. But alluding back to my proposal of calling the genre „Subversive Fiction“, this book would have been only HALF as good, HALF as chilling, if Lou Ford REALLY got what was coming to him (maybe he does in the end, but there certainly isn’t any feeling of redemption in the end). your last statement above completely obscures what you mean by „subversive“. Again, what does it subvert? Here you speak of the book eliciting a desire for justice, law and redemption. Such an elicitation does not seem the mark of a „subversive“ text. Seriously, please define the term and explain how you’re using it here. This is an exercise that will prove helpful

Cornell Woolrich’s RENDEZVOUS IN BLACK is the easiest of these novels to categorize because it is undoubtedly suspenseful

[Here we go again. Remember „suspense“ {genre} and „suspenseful“ {adjective} are only etymologically related. The attribution of the latter does little to nothing for our understanding of the scope of the former]. Unlike the others [Antecedent! What others, where?], suspense seems to be one of his – if not his foremost – concern/s [Suspense is a technique for Woolrich. It is not the concern of the novel. The concern of the novel would be something like loneliness. An interesting problem you bring to light with this interesting slip] .

He seems to thrive on just flat-out

[Substandard English – unacceptable in a college paper] toying with the reader’s mind, using every „paraliterary“ device imaginable to throw us off-balance [What are you saying with this statement?] and make us lose confidence in knowing what will happen next [Do most novelists give the reader a synopsis of everything that will happen? I doubt the need for the narrator to keep the reader’s interest is a peculiarity of Woolrich or the suspense genre. And furthermore, Woolrich deliberately DOES let the reader know exactly what is going to happen in each chapter. Please rethink this.]. If we expect a murder at the beginning of a scene, he will prolong that scene for pages and pages until we are lulled into thinking that just maybe these people, unlike the rest, might actually survive [This seems to be grappling for something to support your previous statement. The chapters are divided up according to the victim killed. By the second killing, I doubt any reader would suspect that any designated victim would survive. The knowledge that each chapter means a specific murder is definitely imparted to the reader right away, and the length of the chapter in no way makes the outcome more uncertain, and certainly does not make any of the murders surprising or „unexpected.“]. Just when this thought first occurs…BANG. [Zowie. Bam.]



Dead woman #3.

Woolrich hurls devices of suspense with reckless abandon [Mixed metaphor. Wasn’t Woolrich to much of a weakling to hurl a device of suspense very far? Would such a device hurt as much as a man with a battery-powered sander’s baseball bat?]; for instance [Syntax and antecedent. The structure you have here means that one of the devices of suspense old lefty was slinging at the text was the blind woman Martine. Had he done that, she would have never gone through the trouble to go on the cruise], the blind woman Martine who appears in a string of scenes [word choice awkward], and never quite knows „who is REALLY in the room with her“ at the beginning of each. Every time (but the last, of course), it’s a false alarm. [She shouldn’t have cried „Device of Suspense Hurling Wolf“]

Speaking of suspense, it is two to 5:00 and I’ve yet to compose my final summarizing thoughts. So consider this just an „unfinished exploration“ for now, and I will send you something to tie it together before section next week

[Good slowtime interface segue].


thanks for reading


[You’re welcome.]


 


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