Friday, August 22, 2008

Forgotton-books-Friday: Sin Soracco's Edge City

Patti Abbot ( is inspiring a number of writers and bloggers to write about a “forgotten novel,” and she’s posting their articles or links to their blog posts on the subject. She asked me to dig up a forgotten book for her August 22nd edition of the forgotten books, and here’s what I came up with:

There are a number of writers today who are using the noir genre in creative and original ways, but there are fewer who have a truly original voice. Sin Soracco’s 1993 novel Edge City is one of those rare originals. There is little to compare it with, Jack O’Connell’s compelling and almost Gothic noir fantasies of the rustbelt are the only crime novels that come to mind with even a roughly similar voice. Edge City is a convict’s fever dream of her first few days on the outside. It’s a wild, fast ride (too fast for complete sentences, sometimes—fragments flow quickly past the reader’s eye) from Reno’s release from prison to her meeting with her parole agent to her fleabag hotel room to the weird and wonderful Club Istanbul, all the way to her involvement in dirty politics, drug deals, and murder. She’s a skilled thief who got caught, who recognizes an old friend (a Native American woman who’s reinvented herself as a Middle-Eastern belly dancer) and veers off into a world of noir imagination. The post-industrial setting in which the Club Istanbul is located is never named, but it’s obviously at the edges of San Francisco, beyond the tourist zone. The premise, a sleazy bar that features resident musicians and belly dancers instead of a sound system and strippers, a visiting hip Arabic-punk band backing up an egomaniac male belly dancer, and an owner who is an art columnist, is as high concept as Jack O’Connell’s radio subculture, porn theater, and freak-show comics (and the imagining of those high-concept settings and the immersion of the characters in them is the talent that Soracco shares with O’Connell). Both Soracco and O’Connell give us a vision of a noir hell—in Soracco’s case an infernal illusion of freedom experienced by the paroled convict. Soracco’s previous novel, Low Bite, is a novel of the prison itself. Fair warning: the plot of Edge City nervously tightens to a fever pitch of theft (of objects and information) and murder, and then quickly unwinds, like the stories of Elmore Leonard or John McFetridge; the plot is less the point than the deliciously dark and anxious language and atmosphere. In the New York Times review that greeted the publication of Edge City, Marilyn Stasio said of Soracco that “there's fire in her garish portraits of the damned souls who inhabit her apocalyptic world.” I’ve been hoping over the years for more of Reno, or a sequel featuring another apocalyptic world, but the only appearance of Soracco’s fiction that I’ve found is a short story in the recent San Francisco Noir collection published by Akashic. In that anthology, Soracco gives a short third-person monologue in place of an author’s bio. It reads, in part, “She makes up her life from whatever’s around—if there’s nothing handy, she goes somewhere else. The center remains steady: the intense visceral pleasure of stories. She says, ‘One day our stories will bring the bastards down.’” A fitting description of the texture and the underlying impulse of noir fiction.

Glenn Harper

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks so much. Looks like a dynamite book.