Suburban Noir Moves in Next Door
RT Book Reviews says the sub genres of Suburban Noir and Domestic Suspense have been percolating for a while, but the success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl “shone the spotlight on some pretty dark spaces — and ignited a boom of discovery and rediscovery”. To find out more about its history, meaning, and trends, RT Book Reviews interviewed Megan Abbott (author of Dare Me), Sarah Weinman (Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives), and me.
“As you read through the novel, any doubt one may have had about suburbia being a good setting for a crime novel is replaced by the following question: how can so many writers have neglected such a promising setting for so long?!”
Part 2: “The threat of violence permeates the book to such an extent that there’s a good chance you will feel as paranoid as the characters.”
SARETT: You’ve written a good deal of flash fiction. What attracts you to the super-short form?
TJ: Which one of your novels or short stories makes you the most proud? Why?
CG: One that hasn’t yet been published … yet! – “I Was Young Once” … It received an honorable mention in the 2007 Zoetrope All-Story short fiction content. Joyce Carol Oates, one of my favorite writers, judged the contest that year. Knowing she enjoyed my story still gives me a thrill, almost 5 years later.
I had taken the story to my critique group and received a wide range of feedback. One person in the group gave it high praise and suggested not changing a word, but I re-wrote it based on the other responses, which were much less positive. My husband said I’d ruined it. I decided I agreed with him and submitted the original to the contest. That experience taught me a lot about being true to my voice.
DS: The Madison Keith novellas have a supernatural element whilst your other work tends to be fairly grounded in reality – why the change?
CG: I write first drafts with just a brief character sketch or two and a few markers for where I’m headed because it’s so much fun to see what develops. Sometimes, that can be startling. In the middle of the first draft of the first novella, a pair of ghosts showed up. When I looked back at what I’d written so far, I saw that I had a good setup for the supernatural and hadn’t even been aware of it (consciously).
I struggled with it for a month or two, worried about confusing my “brand”. However, I’m very interested in philosophy, religion, attitudes about death and other things that lend themselves to the supernatural. In fact six or seven years ago, one of my short stories was rejected by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine specifically because their readers weren’t interested in the supernatural. (You can listen to the podcast on my website – The Healer).
Since my fiction deals with the disconnect between characters’ internal worlds and what they reveal to others, taking that concept to an entity being seen/unseen seems to fit (at least in my mind). Like my novels and short stories, my novellas focus on the “why” behind the crime and are set in suburbia. There’s also a touch of dark humor, so I think Suburban Noir fits.
SCH: Demise is a story about friends whose relationships unravel to show the deep scars of personal trauma beneath a veneer of ‘soccer mom’ respectability. I found them convincing and awful, but somehow oddly able to evoke sympathy. How do you come by your characters? Is there an internal closet somewhere in which they sit, lifeless, waiting to be animated? Do they dash, fully formed onto your page without asking? Are they opportunistic encounters in supermarkets and cafes? Or do you have to construct them, watch how the pieces work together (or not), tweak out inconsistencies? Do they make you work for their living?
CG: I’m so glad to hear that you think the characters evoke sympathy. Beta readers really hammered me with feedback that my characters were “unlikeable”. Although I worked a long time incorporating that feedback, at the end of the day, I didn’t change them significantly because theirs was the story I wanted to tell.
SCH: I like that view. There are people in the real world that I don’t like much but that intrigue me. Why should fiction be any different? Or are we not supposed to truly represent the real world?
“People often leave behind the city life and take up residence on a quiet cul-de-sac in the suburbs. They expect to find the camaraderie of neighbors, and they brag about a low crime rate. But, under every silver lining there’s a dark side. And, maybe even a killer.”