Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories Hardcover – 18 Nov 2008
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This is an erudite, illuminating and highly readable study Journal of American Studies Cassuto has profitably plowed new ground in this study. It's certain to become an essential document for undersatnding crime fiction's inner workings. African American Review
About the Author
Leonard Cassuto is professor of English at Fordham University and an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in academic journals and popular periodicals ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Salon.com. He is the author of The Inhuman Race: The Racial Grotesque in American Literature and Culture and the general editor of the forthcoming Cambridge History of the American Novel.
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Leonard Cassuto begins his exploration with Dreiser's An American Tragedy, an apt bookend for a text that concludes with a discussion of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood as the other bookends. While Hard-Boiled Sentimentality traces the crime novel genre from 1900 to the present, it never examines these books in isolation. Rather, it incorporates not only the minor texts surrounding the big books but also the author biography, the history, the politics, the economics, the sociology, and the literary criticism that contribute to the fabric of each book - and all without making the reader feel he's sitting in a classroom lecture. He unifies these varied strands with the chronology of a genre, of course, but primarily, he ties them together with a single driving premise: that the hard-boiled crime novel and its various incarnations "draw consistently on literary sentimentalism for their imagery and symbolism", their ambivalence, and their violence (81). In general, he concludes - and proves soundly - that these novels deal in the anxieties of the home and family, in the kind of indifference some characters feel toward the human plight, and in the contrast and conflict of the detective heroes (often public servants who have taken over the caretaking role of families no longer performing the Nineteenth-Century's ideal of family work) who strive mightily not to convey or give into their emotions while simultaneously acting with devotion toward and as guardians of the homes destroyed by violence. Whether Cassuto enlightens the reader about particular scenes, dialogue, and action that supports his premise and clarifies the varying reactions to, against, or in support of sentimental sensibilities or provides the period's context, he never strays far from the texts themselves and never ceases to convey his admiration for the multi-functioning levels of depth in the "simplest" of these books, many of them overlooked for far too long by the literary canon. In a mere two hundred and seventy-two pages, Cassuto includes analysis of the work of no fewer than thirty-five authors, all of whom he believes in one way or another in dialogue with each other.
It is this very dialogue that most intrigues the reader of Hard-Boiled Sentimentality; the reader cannot escape his own memory of these classic and contemporary novels, particularly because Cassuto reminds of us their rich texture as he quotes from them. As the reader reaches the end of the book, he cannot help but think that the title could just have easily have read, Hard-Boiled Books and Their Common Thread: The Effects of the Loss of Sentimentality. He can also barely contain an impulse to reread these books from a brand new perspective.
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