Illustration by Leslie Herman from the New Yorker.
The New Yorker‘s annual summer fiction issue features a brilliant article by Adam Gopnik on the current ‘state’ of crime fiction—the focus of our forthcoming seminar, “The Dark Side”—and what it reveals about the transformations in American life.
In “The Back Cabana: The rise and rise of Florida crime fiction,” Gopnik discusses the roots of the crime genre in the canonical California-noir books of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. “But another line of crime fiction,” Gopnik argues, “may have supplanted the L.A.-noir tradition as a paperback mirror of American manners—the fiction of Florida glare.”
Gopnik draws the line of influence in Florida Glare from John D. MacDonald, whose hero Travis McGee fought crime from a houseboat on the Intracoastal, to Elmore Leonard and practitioners including James W. Hall and Carl Hiaasen. Much of the piece focuses on Hiaasen, Florida Glare’s reigning king, who “has a constant sense of how easily brutality and ineptitude and inconsequence flow together.”
The crux of Gopnik’s point is that the relatively orderly world that gave birth to California noir has dissolved in our current state of affairs. “In L.A. noir, the essential fear is of corruption—the system is fake. In Florida glare, corruption is taken for granted. The thing to fear is chance.” In Hiaasen’s world and in ours, “nothing connects, but everything coincides.” “You find no balanced ‘Double Indemnity’-like sense of sin and nemesis, just reality-show surrealism that goes on and on until someone dies, or turns the set off.”
If you’re not a New Yorker subscriber, you can listen to Gopnik discussing Florida Glare with Tom Ashbrook on the radio program “On Point.” You can also listen to Gopnik in our Audio Archives; his 2011 keynote address—“Rituals of Taste”— is classic Gopnik, a tour-de-force disquisition on how our “taste” for food is intertwined with our “taste” for the arts, literature, fashion, and politics. And you can see Carl Hiaasen and James W. Hall, along with top crime writers from all over the country, at our 32nd annual Key West Literary Seminar—”The Dark Side.”