12 July 2010

Summer noir

I-5: A Novel of Transport, Crime and Sex is one of the 2009 releases from Oakland's PM Press in their Switchblade hardboiled fiction line. Berkeley writer Summer Brenner tackles the dark and tragic subject of international human trafficking with the story of Anya, a Russian peasant girl who is lured to America with promises of jobs and freedom, but finds herself instead a captive and a prostitute. Ms. Brenner writes Anya's story mostly in the present tense and in a plain, unadorned style that pulls the reader in and creates empathy with the girl's terrible fate. The story is set in California, mostly along the long, gray ribbon of road that bisects the state and joins its major population centers. The highway is always, metaphorically, an artery, a path for the lifeblood of the organism. We've all jockeyed for space on "the Five" with the endless number of tractor-trailer rigs, tankers, and freight trucks that carry our household goods and our industrial materials--the very stuff of our society's existence. How many of us thought that those big diesels might be shipping a human cargo? Brenner puts us right in the middle of that sordid enterprise, with its suave operators and elaborate deception schemes, but also manages to tell a brisk crime tale as well, with oddballs, sympathetic losers, creeps, and thugs. Good noir fiction puts you deep into the underbelly of everyday life, and opens your eyes to the damned and the doomed that are all around us. I-5 manages to be an exposé as well as a novel, and works brilliantly on both levels. Brenner concentrates on the human element, allowing the story to unfold and tell itself, and one can't help but be disturbed by a world that allows for disposable people.

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