Friday, May 12, 2006

DC Dark and Dirty

Once when I went to Cleveland for a writer’s conference I met a lot of people who were surprised and even mystified that I lived in DC –at the time I lived near Dupont Circle. To these people DC was the capital city of the nation, the seat of government and a home for shady politics. Several didn’t even know that people actually lived in DC and those who did asked me how often-not if but how often-I saw the president. I told them the truth: that I see him every night on the TV news.

It’s not necessarily their fault that they have all these misunderstandings about DC. The way the city is portrayed in literature and movies it’s easy to think DC is little more than the capital building, the National Mall, and the Lincoln Memorial with the swanky houses and restaurants of Georgetown squeezed in-between. With all this skewed coverage and perspective it’s nice to see an anthology like DC Noir pulling together stories that create a much more realistic-albeit dark and gritty-portrait of DC.

Edited by local crime fiction author George Pelecanos, the book does a phenomenal job presenting the different neighborhoods and wide variety of residents of DC. From congressional aids on capital hill to petty thieves in Hill East, it shows that DC is a city where people live, struggle and die every day.

As a whole the book holds up a pretty grim view on life. Life for the average person is hard and it only gets harder when your life intersects with the criminal world. College students confronting big time drug dealers, a reporter covering the riots in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, a store owner defending his business from teenage vandal are just some of the gritty yet thrilling challenges. The one story that goes against this is Laura Lippmann’s “A.R.M. and the Woman”; a divorced housewife decides the only way she can hold onto the lifestyle she’s grown used to is by killing her ex-husband and collecting on the insurance money.

Many of the authors in the anthology are not known for fiction; aside from pulling from the normal channels of novelists and short fiction writers Pelecanos used his contacts in television and journalism to bring in writers who carry in their own unique experiences and styles to the page. Each story, regardless of the writer’s background, is taught, grim and thrilling fiction. My only complaint is that one major facet of DC is missing: tourists. Focusing on the local residents is great, but love them or hate them tourists do make up a large part of the feel of our beloved DC. But perhaps wanting to see some naïve tourist get caught up in something dangerous is my own issue.



Anonymous said...

You mentioned "ARM and the Woman"--that story is one of my complaints about this otherwise strong collection. I mean, think about it--why would this woman's ex allow her access to their kids' trust fund. I don't care how "friendly" they are post-divorce, that just makes no sense to me. Plus what a bizarre, unbelievable scenario for planning a murder. Even the name of the story is wrong. The woman's problem is due to having a balloon mortgage, not an ARM. But I guess "Balloon Mortgage and the Woman" just wouldn't have the same ring. And, if we're talking DC, the neighborhood should be identified as Friendship Heights, not Chevy Chase, which is in Maryland.

Hebdomeros said...

All interesting points. I'm afraid I don't know enough about inheritance or real estate law to know how probable all of it was. The murder itself is definitely a bit improbable; I think I enjoyed because it stood out as the only one with a little bit of humor worked in. It was a nice break from all the dark material of the other stories.

Thanks for sharing your info....the legalities issue would not have occurred to me.