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American Beauty

David L. Ulin revisits James M. Cain’s novel, “Mildred Pierce” in the L.A. Times:

Of all the classic noir writers, perhaps none has been as tarnished by the brush of genre as James M. Cain. That’s because Cain — born in Baltimore in 1892, a protégé of H.L. Mencken and, briefly, managing editor of The New Yorker — was not a great hard-boiled novelist but a great novelist period, whose vision of 1930s Southern California is as acute and resonant as anything ever written about that time and place.

…“I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hard-boiled, or grim,” Cain once noted of his own writing, “or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices, and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort.”

One comment

1 Matt Blankman   ~  Apr 5, 2011 12:29 am

Ulin shows his own snobbery though by trying to suggest Cain somehow rises above the stench of his genre. Only fools get hung up on genre. Of course Cain was great, but is he suggesting other "hard-boiled" greats were just great for their genre?

I think the more interesting question would be: why are so many of the great 20th century American authors "genre" writers, particularly those of the "hard-boiled" school?

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