Sunday, March 23, 2014

Quick Review - Pulp Culture by Woody Haut

Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War (1995)
by Woody Haut



"Representing the disfunction of a nation in transition, paranoia was so potent a subtext it blurred the narrative of both text and nation, causing readers and writers to lose track of plot and historical context. This was less disastrous for pulp culture fiction, concentrating as it does on culture, characterization and narrative progression, than for 'whodunnits', preoccipied with plot, linearity, order and detection.

Though it is futile to connect specific pulp culture texts to specific events, the relationship between text and era is more than metaphorical."  p.16


Woody Haut's excellent survey of the pulp culture landscape - neatly defined as the narrative tradition that emerged from pulp magazines of the twenties, continued through hardboiled writers of the thirties and forties, and overflowed in cheap paperbacks of the fifties and early sixties - is a book that walks a number of fine lines. First of all, that between breadth and depth. While it takes in any number of lesser and greater figures from the pulp landscape, Haut wisely focuses on the more important writers within certain strands: The paranoia of Goodis, Himes and Thompson, for example, or Leigh Brackett, Dolores Hitchens and Dorothy Hughes while examining women hardboiled writers. As well as an excellent introduction, other chapters include the politics and finances of private detection, social critique in the crime novel, and the end of the era when real life finally caught up with pulp style.

While making explicit the connections between culture and text, Haut never stretches the material too far. Taking in film but concentrating on the writers, this text also succesfully navigates the tightrope of scholarly style and readability - the book is well referenced throughout, with plenty of primary and secondary sources to back up his assertions. He maintains an easy-going tone throughout, and the book never drags. Writers are examined within context and important books described and pulled apart with a neatness and thouroughness that make this book essential for anybody interested in the books themselves, the writers, and especially the cultural background of the times and the two-way process of influence: literature on the nation, and, mostly, the nation on literature.

Communism, economics and paranoia have always featured in pulp culture, and Haut lays bare many of the relationships between these elements and the many personalities behind the texts, as well as within the books themselves. An excellent, fascinating and comprehensive read.

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