01 May 2008

Southern Noir

There's a lovely website called This Goodly Land and it is all about the literary landscape of the 22nd state, Alabama. Alabama is known unofficially as "The Heart of Dixie," but officially speaking, it has no nickname. I like This Goodly Land and think I'll stick with that. What brings me here, you ask? An Arkansas-born but Scottsboro-bred writer named W.L. Heath and his fine 1955 novel, Violent Saturday. My copy is a 1985 Black Lizard paperback, with the Creative Arts, 833 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94710 address. I must have wandered by this place in some of my many Berkeley peregrinations, many years ago, but I was not tuned in at the time. My noir fiction obsession is a recent incarnation, despite my long love of the filmic version. It was SF that captured the mind of that aimless Berkeley youth. Violent Saturday is another of last summer's Powell's haul, along with Ill-Wind, also by Mr. Heath and with the Black Lizard imprint. William Ledbetter Heath is a hard guy to find information about. There's a bit of biography in the Edward Gorman preface to the book, and similar stuff on the TGL author page. Wikipedia has an engaging entry for Black Lizard, but not W.L. Heath. Hmm, sounds like an opportunity. Violent Saturday was a short (139 pages) read, but the brisk pace, sharply-drawn characters, vivid small-town locale, and fatalistic urgency of the story made it rich and satisfying. This kind of book is what makes noir fiction so appealing--the lack of bullshit. The action is simple and direct, almost inevitable, but the tone and imagery are so clear and full that you don't notice the bare-bones tale. It is like a Miles Davis riff--clean and spare but warm and lyrical at the same time. This Goodly Land says this:

W. L. Heath’s adult novels are examples of “Southern noir” (works that feature ordinary people with dark secrets who get caught in violent situations).

The novel was made into a movie with Victor Mature, Lee Marvin, and Ernest Borgnine.


This Goodly Land said...

Those of us who have labored mightily (and are still laboring) on This Goodly Land are very pleased (a) that you found us and (b) that you liked what you found. We have a new Multimedia page with audios about literary topics. I'm trying to recruit a local scholar to talk with us about crime fiction.
Thanks for the boost.
Midge Coates, Project Manager
This Goodly Land: Alabama's Literary Landcape

M.C. O'Connor said...

You bet.

I'll keep an eye out for that crime fiction talk!