“The Thin Blue Line(s)” by Max Reynolds from Men of the Mean Streets (Bold Strokes Books, 2011). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.
Does this story really fit into the category of noir? That’s a question I asked time and again while reading this collection. It’s not a genre I’ve read widely, therefore I consulted several online definitions and read a couple of articles on the topic, but I remain unclear on the answer. Noir, those sources say, involves a cynical, fatalistic, or morally ambiguous tough guy, or else someone lured into committing a crime, or a victim of circumstance. Often, the motivation is sexual in nature.
That said, I’m not sure this story is noir, but it’s certainly enjoyable. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the main character, Anthony “Tony” Perrone, is an editor at a major publishing house and the victim, Belinda Sondheim Walsh, is one of his authors. The story’s author is a brave man, for he skewers both professions. The main character is self-described as having “an excessive amount of useless literary degrees”, while his opinion of Belinda is that she’s “one of those writers who thinks all her words are golden…her characters were wholly unlikable—Jonathan Franzen and Phillip Roth would have been proud”.
Despite the title, there is only one thin blue line in this piece, and that’s the one drawn by the editor’s pencil. No investigation is shown. Confessional in nature, the story reminded me a bit of works by Poe. It was unusual, too, because the event that pushed Tony over the edge, though sexual in nature, isn’t the sort of thing one normally thinks of with this genre. He wasn’t lured by sex; on the contrary he was repulsed by it. To his mind, the repeated unwelcome advances Belinda made toward him were a threat his livelihood and his relationship with his boyfriend Cameron.
It’s tempting to start arguing that Tony could have tried other means to stop Belinda, or pick apart his justification that, had their roles been reversed, she would have been given a pass for striking back with excessive force. However, there isn’t a misogynistic message contained in this text, as one online critic has claimed. If someone wants to try to make the case that there is by taking this fictional character’s actions seriously, they need to examine the actions of all the perpetrators in the anthology, and ask if those works contain misandrist and misanthropic messages. But, of course, that would be absurd.