OPINIONSrnOver My Dead Bodyrnby J.O.Tatern”The thing is to squeeze the last drop out of the medium you have learned to use.rnThe aim is not essentially different from the aim of Greek tragedy, but we arerndealing with a public that is only semi-literate and we have to make an art out ofrna language they can understand.”rn— Raymond ChandlerrnCrime Novels: AmericanrnNoir of the 1930s and 40srnedited by Robert PolitornNew York: The Library of America-rn990 pp., $35.00rnCrime Novels: AmericanrnNoir of the 1950srnedited by Robert PolitornNew York: The Library of America;rn892 pp., $35.00rnThese two vokimes of crime novels,rnbound and printed as classics, challengernour notion of the American canon.rnOr perhaps they simply remind us ofrnwhat we were actually reading when wernwere supposed to be reading somethingrnelse. If reading is good for you, bad readingrnis even better.rnTo put it another way, our Pleiade hasrnbecome a Serie Noire. It was ever thus.rnIn the British tradition, of course, therernwas that scandalous background extendingrnfrom Robert Greene’s pamphlets onrnconey-catching to Defoe’s Moll Flandersrnand Fielding’s Jonathan Wilde, and on tornthe Gothic novel, the Newgate novel,rnOliver Twist and The Moonstone, and thernearly Greene. The French tradition,rnmeantime, offers an extended parallel inrncriminal fiction. In Balzac, Stendhal,rnZola, and Camus, we ratchet the guillo-rn].0. Tate is a professor of English atrnDowling College on Long Island.rntine. Dostoyevsky’s ax murderer was possiblyrnredeemed, but not before he was arnvery bad boy indeed. Here in Hicksville,rnv’e have our own distinctive tradition ofrnrough stuff. Poe, Hawthorne, andrnMelville limned the metaphysics ofrntransgression in ways that have immortalizedrntheir names. They left upon thernvectors of crime a stink of intellect—arnLimburger of cerebration. The other traditionrnis the vulgar one, the most notablernpractitioner of which was George Lippard.rnBut we must not forget in our puritanical/rnsentimental way, that HuckleberryrnFinn himself was a notablernjuvenile delinquent. Louisa May ,’lcott,rnwho made nice in Little Women and LittlernMen and Under the Lilacs, also scribbledrnsubversive melodramas on the side.rnAmerican innocence has always been relatedrnto violence. Billy Budd was, werntend to forget, technically guilty. Wlierernelse but in America would TrumanrnCapote, of all people, have written InrnCold Blood? Leslie Fiedler and NormanrnMailer are not the only Americans whornhave understood a relation betweenrnCaptain Ahab and Charles Manson.rnMark Twain and Ernest Hemingway,rnperhaps more than any others, connectedrnthe American traditions of Gothic terrorrnto the authentic voice of our ownrnspeech.rnThus the stage was set for the crimernnovel as a work of art in the vein of thern”lyrical novel” as we have known it—thernbest tradition of American fiction. So thernquestion about these crime novels is notrnwhether they are criminal enough, butrnwhether they are sufficiently novels. Arernthey, after all, literature? Not all of themrnwere published as paperback originals,rnthough we may remember them thatrnway. Geoffrey O’Brien’s HardboiledrnAmerica reminds us of the glory days ofrnpaperbacks back in the late 40’s and 50’s,rnwhen Faulkner’s and Steinbeck’s booksrnlooked like Cornell Woolrich’s. Yournma’ perhaps remember those lurid covers,rnicons of American art—unmadernbeds, whiskey bottles, lots of underwear,rnsometimes a handgun —which somehowrnsaid more to me than any other imagesrnof books ever did. And yet it is notrnhard to see many of the crime novels asrnmoral fables. These narrations are definedrnby crime, but they are as wholesomernas Sunday School lessons. Crimerndoesn’t pay. That’s a point that was madernbv Allen Tate in testimony about thernMAY 1998/31rnrnrn