A hole in the space-time continuum. (Notes by M.C. O'Connor.)
27 March 2007
Continuing the theme of loaned works, my enthusiasm for the brand of fiction many of us call "noir" resulted in Robert Laxalt's A Cup of Tea in Pamplona on my reading pile. My colleague Kevin, a French-speaking Mexican-American of Irish and Basque ancestry, introduced me to Prof. Laxalt, and his highly-regarded 1985 novella. I was immediately drawn to the world of smugglers, the rainy nights in the high mountains, and the themes of honor and identity among the Basque peasants. Crime and criminal organization is the center of the story, and a tragic death the key plot element. But is it noir? It lacked the lurid and sensational aspects of, say, Mickey Spillane, or the grim violence of Jim Thompson. But it had the crisp dialogue of the Cains (both James M. and Paul) and the fatalism of Hammett and Chandler. Laxalt gained fame as a chronicler of the Basque emigration to this country, in particular their unique stamp on the rural West. A Cup of Tea reads more like a memoir than a novel, the people are rough but not uncultured, the portraits loving but not sentimental. My sensitive and scholarly friend doesn't wrestle with silly distinctions about whether or not something fits the definition of noir, I imagine he's happy to leave that to me and other noir junkies. I'm just glad he knows a good read when he comes across one.