Richmond Noir: A book of many Richmonds.

by | Feb 18, 2010 | POLITICS

I just can’t compete with Tom Robbins.

My first reaction is bitterness. I fell in love with the alleyways here, fell in love in them. They were the speechless avenues I followed to my own voice, the unwinding pathways of forgotten deities that emptied into dawn. They were my favorite part of Richmond, the first reason I fell under the infamous spell of this city that holds its enchanted minions tightly to the cobblestone breast of its amber-colored nights and never lets go. They were my favorite things to write about. And now I can’t write about them.

I just can’t compete with Tom Robbins.

My first reaction is bitterness. I fell in love with the alleyways here, fell in love in them. They were the speechless avenues I followed to my own voice, the unwinding pathways of forgotten deities that emptied into dawn. They were my favorite part of Richmond, the first reason I fell under the infamous spell of this city that holds its enchanted minions tightly to the cobblestone breast of its amber-colored nights and never lets go. They were my favorite things to write about. And now I can’t write about them.

I can’t write about them because I’ve just read one of my favorite authors say everything I’ve ever tried to express about those formative, incubatory experiences. And I just can’t compete with him.

I’m referring to that revered Richmond expat’s foreword to Richmond Noir, a short story anthology from Akashic Books, the latest in their series of city-based noir collections. The foreword is only a page-and-a-half, but it sets the tone for what quickly proves itself to be a morbidly eloquent celebration of the haunted countenance that rests just behind the fluttering veil of a town so often given to suggestions of “sleepy southern” mundanity.

The pages are traversed by heroin-addicted jazz artists and Confederate ghosts, severed heads, epithet-spouting hookers with physical handicaps, and crack-slinging pimps. Gunshots ring out from Sugar Bottom, belly dancers sway through falafel houses in Shockoe. Drunken cars crash on Broad Street, slaves lay sleeplessly under the rubble of history, the dead slide past the frozen rocks of the James in hospital gowns.

The stories are varied in style and subject, but together they present an image of Richmond that demands the attention of anyone living in or considering a move to the city. They are linked together by a shared spectral affliction as much as a geographical commonality. Each takes place in a different section of Richmond, and the lingering effect of their reading is a savagely drawn map of our regional humanity, with all its depravity and history, abuses and terrible affairs, its legacy of silence and rage and amoral resignations, but also of its quiet hope and poverty-stricken optimism.

Richmond Noir touches on something unattainable by a singular author. Its collection of diverse voices, interests, period pieces, present-day reflections, architectural insights, cultural commentary, and the pervasive sense of mortality that characterizes an urbania so bound to inherited nostalgia, capture the indefinable nature of what it is to live in Richmond.
From the Poe Museum to the disbanded prisoner-of-war camps on Belle Isle, Richmond is a city enveloped in the unlit corners of time, making its turbulent way into the future like horse-drawn carriages on the cobblestone alleyways that move behind the reinventions of Broad Street’s fresh pavement. Richmond Noir isn’t afraid to venture down either, and challenges its readership to embrace their fear, rather than overcome it, and come along for the ride.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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