Monday, August 15, 2011

Femme Noir by Clara Nipper

Publisher:      1st ed - Alpha World; 2nd ed - Bold Strokes Books

Note:  I feel obligated to say that I was asked to review this 
           book.  I wish I hadn't been.

The review is based on the 1st edition.

Nora Delaney is an extremely successful college basketball coach and a well-known womanizer.  When she's not on the court, she's in someone's bed or in a bar and she enjoys her life.  She's not very happy when she gets a bizarre phone call from her ex-lover Michelle asking for help, but she's really shaken up when she finds out the next day that Michelle has been murdered.  Nora decides to take a trip from LA to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to try and find out what happened.  In Tulsa, she learns that she really didn't know anything about a woman she lived with for years.  She also meets a group of women who are extremely eclectic in their personalities.  Nora finds herself torn between chasing after an enticing woman and trying to find out what happened to Michelle.  The closer she gets to the answer to that, the less sure she is that she wants to know what it is.

Femme Noir is meant to be a flashback to the movies of the 1950's that were black and white and peopled by tough guys and tougher babes.  The print in the book is done to look like it was written on an old typewriter to capture that feeling and there are plenty of scenes based around bars, smoking, sex, and tough talk.  The back blurb says that the book is a satire full of cock-eyed optimism.  The satire is certainly there, but it's heavy handed and forced, while optimism is probably not a word the reader will associate with this book.  Dialogue is not witty, but often ridiculous and many of the situations don't seem to have relevance to the plot.  At times it seems that the author isn't clear as to exactly what the plot is supposed to be, so it seems to ramble from point to point.

"In this book is something to offend everyone."  This statement from the back blurb is the truest statement about the book.  Nora Delaney is written to be an African American woman and she makes statements about white people that tread on the edge of being blatantly racist.  The reader might excuse this as trying to see American society through the eyes of a black woman, so it will be a shock to know that the author is a white woman.  There is something unsettling about the words that come out of Nora's mouth when the character talks about whites and then when she talks about blacks and the reader remembers a white woman is writing the words.  

In creating Nora's character, Nipper gave her all of the negative characteristics of the "tough guys" of the noir films.  That means she treats women totally as sex objects and her descriptions of them are phrased in the rawest language possible.  All this woman can think about is sex and how much of it she can have.  She talks like a man and struts like a man.  There are only two types of women in Nora's world, frou-frou femmes, who don't appear to have a grain of sense, or butches who might as well be men.   

Since Nipper's stated goal was to offend everyone, she would have to be considered successful, but this book is not enjoyable to read.  Most of what is in it will probably bother you.

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