What, exactly, is Suburban Noir?

The writers who have influenced me the most are Joyce Carol Oates, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, and Laura Kasischke. I also love the work of John Updike and Tom Perrotta, whose novels portray suburbia as the femme fatale, offering the allure of safety, whispering, I’ll comfort you in any way I can. But she won’t.

The Suburban Noir genre is an emerging trend according to RT Book Reviews. The success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl rocketed it to center stage.

In 2012, it was called out  in  The New York Times pre-review of the short story collection, Long Island Noir. And The Wall Street Journal [page no longer available], in its overview of Megan Abbott’s latest novel, Dare Me, quoted Ms. Abbott as saying, “The suburbs are very noir places—everything is hidden.” One of the authors of a story in Long Island Noir, Tim McLoughlin, had this to say:

“This is about the dark side of aspirational culture in America,” he said. “Long Island is the perfect setting.”

In fact, he said, suburbia may be even meaner than the big city. People involved in nefarious doings in an urban environment often don’t know one another. In the suburbs, it can be more personal.

“It’s a different world for all the players involved,” Mr. McLoughlin said. “Here, they live in each others’ pockets, and you’re more likely to have people on the lower rung working for people on the upper rung.”

Noir Fiction

My fiction isn’t strictly  Noir in the conventional sense. It doesn’t have the “emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot”. This isn’t to say my work is “sex-less”, all of my novels include at least one character with femme fatale qualities, but sex is not the driving force of the plot. Like Noir fiction, I explore “the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters”. Noir reflects the type of stories that haunt me.

Noir Fiction is considered (according to our collective expertise recorded at Wikipedia) a sub-genre of Hardboiled Crime. The protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. She is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called in to solve or fix the situation.

A few months before I published my first novel, The Demise of the Soccer Moms, I started playing with the notion of Suburban Noir to describe my fiction because it was frustrating to mention psychological suspense and have that interpreted as “mystery” or “high stakes thriller” — readers looking for those traditions will be disappointed with my stories.  I couldn’t understand why people interpreted psychological suspense as “thriller”. A writer on the now-defunct blog, Two Blowhards, helped me understand why:

“Ever run across discussions of this genre [psychological suspense]? I can’t imagine why; it’s not very well known in America. England and France have much more developed traditions of psych-suspense fiction.”

Poor me, born and living in the US of A where the genre I love is not very well known, or understood. Michael Blowhard goes on to describe the genre, pointing to the novels of Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith as examples, as well as films such as “Lantana”, “Alias Betty”, “Unfaithful” and some of the quieter Hitchcock movies:

“What characterizes the genre? I find it helpful to keep in mind that it isn’t a mystery-fiction subgenre; it’s really best thought of as a crime-fiction subgenre. That helps take some weight off the idea of “mystery.” Its main characteristic, though, is it generally uses a crime as a pretext for opportunities to look into personality and sociology. There’s a murder or a kidnapping, sure — but often in psychological suspense you know from the outset who did it. ie., from a mystery point of view, there’s pointedly no mystery. And often the central character, if there is one, isn’t the investigator but the criminal.

Suspense? Well, kindasorta. But seldom of the rushing-to-a-breathless-climax sort. There’s often a tone of dread or malignity — you’re watching or reading about curious, fated, peculiar things, people and actions.”

If you like a quieter mood of suspense or dread, if the worlds you want to explore exist inside the infinite intricacies of the human mind, you’ll probably enjoy my Suburban Noir fiction. Thanks for stopping by.

Here’s a little visual Suburban Noir I discovered recently — very seductive.