Wednesday, March 22, 2006

San Francisco Noir, edited by Peter Maravelis

(pb; 2005: story anthology)

From the back cover:

San Francisco Noir lashes out with original hard-biting tales exploring the shadowy nether regions of scenic ‘Baghdad by the Bay.’ Desperation, transgression, and madness fuel these tales celebrating San Francisco’s criminal heritage.

“Brand new stories by: Dominic Stansberry, Barry Gifford, Eddie Muller, Robert Mailer Anderson, Michelle Tea, Peter Plate, Kate Braverman, David Corbett, Alejandro Murguia, Sin Soracco, Alvin Lu, Will Christopher Baer, Jim Nisbet, Jon Longhi, and David Henry Sterry.”

Overall review:

Good anthology, with a few overly long entries.

Review, story by story:

The Prison” – Dominic Stansberry: 1946. Prisoners are rioting on Alcatraz. On the mainland, Jojo, a bitter war vet, has returned to the North Beach area, where his family’s past is also a prison. Well-written, with an abrupt, didn’t-see-it-coming ending.

It Can Happen” – David Corbett: A wealthy paraplegic (Pilgrim) discovers that his ex-wife (Lorene) is pissing away his fortune, by allowing a con artist to live with her. Pilgrim’s financial punishment of Lorene sparks a cycle of greed and murder that neither of them could’ve foreseen. Deftly-plotted gem, with a great finish-twist.

Double Espresso” – Sin Soracco: Boring, rambling tale about a homeless woman in the Mission district. I got halfway through this before ditching it for the next story.

After Hours At La Chinita” – Barry Gifford: Quasi-philosophical time-shifting take on domestic abuse, the afterlife, sex, life and spirituality. Amusing read.

The Neutral Zone” – Kate Braverman: Two intermittent female friends meet at a Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant, a “neutral zone” for them, where their longtime (and troubled) histories are less hurtful. Past and present circumstances haunt their guarded, often unspoken communications. Okay story, that runs a bit longer than it should.

Le Rouge Et Le Noir” – Alvin Lu: Initially-meandering tale about two young men who mix friendship and politics in Chinatown in 1971. One of these men, Michael, winds up going to China on a money-smuggling run. The satisfactory ending, an overly long time coming (and spanning twelve years), makes up for the web of political theories and intrigue that dominate the first half of the tale. Complex, drawn-out work, worthwhile if you’re patient.

Larry’s Place” – Michelle Tea: A prostitute, a resident in a Bernal Heights ghetto apartment complex, discovers that her psychotic ex-girlfriend, Jenny, has vandalized her apartment; not only that, but her slumlord who lives upstairs has died – and nobody but her knows... yet. Chatty, engaging tale, with Tea’s trademark antsy verbiage, and abrupt-yet-satisfying finish making this one of the best entries in this collection.

The Other Barrio” – Alejandro Murguia: While investigating a suspicious hotel fire in the Mission District, Roberto Morales finds himself at odds with local thugs and a rich, “connected” bitch; predictably, this puts him – and those he cares about – in mortal danger. Thrilling, well-crafted noir, with some modern day touches. Excellent, this.

Genesis To Revelation” – Peter Plate: Three days out of San Quentin prison, Slatts Calhoun robs a Market Street marijuana shop, setting into motion a series of events he could not have never foreseen. Shorter than most of the stories in this collection, this one hits fast and hard, with some great lines (e.g., “His voice was colder than his mother’s pussy”).

Deception of the Thrush” – Will Christopher Baer: A Lolita-like pickpocket sets a trap for a sexual predator, and discovers that she might be the prey, not the predator. Adrenalized prose, gripping plot: great story.

Weight Less Than Shadow” – Jim Nisbet: The city authorities build a gellatinous, invisible force shield around the Golden Gate Bridge to prevent the many suicides that it seems to inspire. Science fiction, human nature, politics and dark quirky humor are seamlessly blended in this light-hearted, romantic and Kevorkian-minded take on mortality. Definitely worth a read, and a hearty chuckle.

Fixed” – Jon Longhi: The last days of a Haight-Ashbury drug dealer, Hal Satan, are vividly described, in sometimes melancholy, often bleak-hilarious, detail. From busting up poetry readings with poems like ‘Manifesto: Why I Have the Moral Right to Rape Whoever I Choose’ to riding atop speeding cars naked (while waving an axe) to falling victim to heroin, he’s someone to admire (in a darkly funny way) and to pity. Wonderful story that, like the previous story (“Weight Less Than Shadow”), fully captures the “feel” of San Francisco – or, at least, two of its distinctive neighborhoods. Highly recommended, this.

Briley Boy” – Robert Mailer Anderson: A physically-abusive criminal reflects on his life, while his whore wife beats him to death. Unpleasant, but well-written (in a tough, Mickey Spillane way) and thankfully brief.

Kid’s Last Fight” – Eddie Muller: The lives of a septuagenarian ex-boxer, a wealthy young woman and an Asian boy-thug intersect in the SoMa (South of Market) district. Enjoyable, not particularly memorable, slice-of-life tale.

Confessions of a Sex Maniac” – David Henry Sterry: An ethical “problematic hypersexualist” bagman finds himself hooked on Snow Leopard, a pistol-packing, nymphomaniacal beauty who may very well be the death of him. Strong, descriptive story that gives the reader a full “feel” of the Polk Gulch, and San Francisco in general. The ending’s easy to foresee, but the ride’s fun.

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