In a continuing series of features from our authors, Daniel M. Mendoza takes a look at what aspiring writers can learn from working-class fiction and noir.
Fiction should do more than entertain or provide an escape from the reality of the world. Rereading Poe’s review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, Henry James’s “Art of Fiction,” the Gass and Gardner debates of the late seventies, Eric Williamson’s Say It Hot are all enough to convince readers of the intellectual role fiction plays in our lives. What should be of real value in writing contemporary fiction is the author’s willingness to aggressively encounter reality. Authors should try to work from the violence, the despair, the poverty of this country and it is there that they will find the stories of our true America.
Writers should meditate on a very old, and dare I say dangerous tenet of realism: showing things as they actually are—they can learn a lot about this from classic noir and working-class fiction. Noir writers and working-class fiction writers have made the seedy underbelly of our country the centerpiece of their work from the very beginning. Poe—our first detective fiction writer—Melville, Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Sherwood Anderson, Hammett, Chandler, and others all made everlasting careers illuminating the dark and often dangerous experiences of the common American.