Thursday, December 18, 2008

Catching Up #17: QUEENPIN by Megan Abbott

The crazy thing about Megan Abbott's Edgar Award-winning Queenpin is that it reads like it could have actually been written fifty years ago. Take out a couple F-words and this baby could have been written back in the good old days of crime pulp, no sweat. But the crazier thing is this: Despite its prose style and lack of swears (I'm five years old), it doesn't feel neutered or cozy in the least. In fact, this book hits hard and it hits low and it hits fucking often. It's a doozy-and-a-fucking-half.

The plot is simple in the way the best noirs always are (as in it isn't really simple at all, but it seems simple enough initially). We follow a young woman as she is taken under the wing of a legendary (and legendarily violent) moll named Gloria Denton. She used to hang with Luciano and the rest back in the early Vegas days, has a big-time rep.

Anyhow, Denton takes this young woman - our unnamed narrator - in and shows her the ropes of collections and numbers running, shows her how to be tough and professional in a man's world. She gets her some nice clothes and sweet digs and turns her into a younger, prettier version of herself. Thing is, our young heroine can't keep her legs closed, despite her mentor's persistent warnings. So when she falls for a low-life gambler named Vic who's in deep to a local boss, she decides to do the unthinkable - cross the volatile Gloria to save her boyfriend's ass.

Abbott is obviously a student of old pulp and classic film noir as Queenpin is drenched in hipster lingo from a by-gone era and brimming with the sass of every great femme fatale ever projected on a silver screen (see, I can write the purple shit when I have to). But as with the best in the noir tradition, her stylistic choices only serve to enhance the storytelling, not bog down the pace. This mother is as tight and sleek as a Boetticher western (the fuck did that reference come from?).

Queenpin is unlike anything I've read in quite sometime. It is simultaneously an exciting original in the genre and a reverential homage (GENRE and HOMAGE in the same sentence? Double your French douche-ery!). It is both a restrained exercise and completely unbridled darkness. Why Abbott wasn't interviewed by Terry Gross or Michael Silverblatt or some other yuppie culture icon after this book came out is beyond me. This is the cross-over book of the decade - something for both the NPR set and the hard-core-lone-gunmen-noir-crazies of the world.

In other words, you should read the shit out of it, dear reader. Read the shit out of it but good.

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