Tough Dames

New volume offers a closer look at the women of noir.

 00801llofwomanbook36By Angel Curtis

Noir, anyone? Busted Flush Press, our local noir press, is giving us one hell of an anthology of female noir.

Back in the pulp days, all the female characters fit the Madonna or whore mode (think Raymond Chandler). The men writing the pulp really hated, or were afraid of, or had been castrated by women. The one-dimensional, stereotypical female characters were depressingly charming in their predictability. We didn’t know them; we knew only if they were sexually available to the hero. These women characters served only as objects of desire or as word-count fillers.

Feminist writers finally revolted. We got pulpy characters who were heroes rather than human, and whose struggles resulted in their becoming depressingly middle class. Yes, they were cops, but they were fighting the system. Yes, they were tough PIs, but their goal was to own their own business. Yes, they had relationships, but they looked very much like our own. Regardless of how tough they were, they were still stuck in the traditional female roles outside of their work. The only thing special about them was that they weren’t men.

Enter the stories in A Hell of a Woman. The very section headings (“Minxes, Shapeshifters and Hothouse Flowers,” “Housewives, Madonnas and Girls Next Door,” “Gold-Diggers, Hustlers and B-Girls,” “Working Girls, Tomboys and Girls Friday,” “Hellcats, Madwomen and Outlaws”) let us know we are entering a strange new world.

Here we meet the women we know are out there, and who scare us a little. Women we are glad we really don’t know. Women we are really glad aren’t us. Women who know their own minds, make their own choices, and scare the hell out of us all. Women usually hidden in most fiction are up-front and center here.

Sandra Scoppettone
And their stories are compelling. The writing is superb. Vin Packer and Sandra Scoppettone are old and welcome friends. Vin Packer is one of the pseudonyms of Marijane Meaker, who wrote Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s , a novel about her brief love affair with Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley). Sandra Scoppettone has written three novels under the pseudonym Jack Early and has penned many mystery novels featuring New York private eye Lauren Laurano. Sarah Weinman leads the pack of new writers you don’t want to miss.

Real women, real problems, real solutions. Men are fungible assets. Rules don’t apply, and real life happens at the edges. These women are tough, these women survive, these women blow away the noir stereotypes.

Kudos to Busted Flush Press not only for this anthology but for continuing to push the envelope of noir anthologies.

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Angel Curtis

Angel Curtis is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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