It’s time to talk about Noir: A Love Story, which comes out in July from Civil Coping Mechanisms and Michael J Seidlinger, who’s willing to take a chance on this sort of risky little novel. The amazing cover art there was done by Ryan W Bradley.
I wrote this way back in 2010, and finished it September 3rd of that year, just a few months before I left for Korea. This post talks a bit about the process of the novel and its construction, along with its genesis. As you can see, I wrote it in a week, and it’s the first novel I ever completed writing. It’s a complex little guy, and it is pretty short: just under 50,000 words, which is half the length of Twilight of the Wolves, which was the fifth novel I finished writing. It’s very strange to have these novels released in this order, especially since this is being released over two years after my first novel, which was written about two months after this one.
What else is there to say?
I suppose you want to know what this novel is. What it’s about and who’s in it. Unfortunately, this is a much more difficult question than you’d expect. See, Noir: A Love Story isn’t like other novels. It’s inspired by a variety of different works, most specifically In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar Wai, From the Art of Mirrors by Max Richter, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, and The Book of Lazarus by Richard Grossman.
So let’s talk about what spilled into this to make the novel. In the Mood for Love is my favorite film by my favorite director, and since my whole life is the movies, then this had to impact me enormously. And when you’ve seen it as many times as I have, which is probably way too many to mention, you’ll notice that Maggie Cheung wears a different dress in every scene. Back when this was starting, Noir, I mean, this was a central idea. See, it was meant to be a piece of flash fiction, under 500 words, and then it was meant to be 5,000 words which handed off narration between people. With each handoff, they’d return to this unnamed woman who wore a different dress in every scene. Well, that expanded immensely, but we’ll get there.
From The Savage Detectives I took the idea of an implicit detective, which is partly why the title of this novel is what it is. I’ve been calling it a detectiveless detective novel, which is both true and untrue, but I’ll leave that part to the reader. I also liked the idea of a narrative happening about people who never have a narration. To that, I made the narrators strangers to the focus characters.
From The Book of Lazarus I learnt that I wanted to write a book that could be read in any order. And Noir: A Love Story is very much meant to be read in any order. The order it’s currently arranged isn’t the order it was written in, and it’s maybe not even the best order. This is simply how I arranged it, and I think it creates the best narrative arc and release of information. But the reader–you–can pick this up anywhere and hop around as much as you want. Probably it’ll make the novel different for you, but hopefully not drastically so. You’ll just understand the world in the novel in a different way, and in a different chronology.
And then from From the Art of Mirrors I learnt what beauty is. I learnt how it can course through you and rise to the top, take us along by the swelling waves of inconceivable beauty. It’s the sublime, and it’s what I’m chasing with this novel. It’s what I’m always aiming after, always trying to reach but never quite getting there.
This is, however, maybe my favorite of my novels. Twilight of the Wolves is, I think, my best, in some ways, which is a function of time and focus, but this one, Noir: A Love Story, will probably always be my favorite. It’s my first. It’s like all first loves. Even the flaws become beautiful. And, hopefully, there shouldn’t be any flaws. It’s been four years in the making, and I’ve run through the editing so many times I can barely read it.
Anyrate, I love this novel. It’s about love and Death and beauty. It’s about imperialism, cultural appropriation, racism, cynicism, and so many other things. It’s about ancient trees and ambiguous utopias and what it means to have a dream. It’s a result of being young, of being frustrated with the world, and trying to find my place in it. I was twenty two when I wrote this, and it’s very much about being young and reckless and in love. But, I mean, it’s about more than that.
It’s the clash and confluence of voices, the juxtaposition of ideologies and lives. Twenty six narrators speak about the dead, trying to reconstruct their lives and make meaning for it.
The narrative here, it isn’t mine. It’s yours. It’s for the reader to construct. I placed the stars in the sky but it’s up to you to write the constellations, to map the landscape of their lives.
Here’s what kind people are blurbing about it:
In this novel of desire and doom, with its collision of voices and a femme fatale who dresses in the dreams of everyone around her, Rathke is the best kind of possessed writer—the kind who has the courage of his possession, whose exorcised words exist in defiance of their author.
—Steve Erickson, author of my favorite novels
In Noir, Rathke exposes the pale, sickly underbelly of a vibrant utopia for all to see. He unravels the quiet metaphysics of the detective thriller by letting all of the witnesses carry equal weight. Rathke has a faith in his reader that makes the experience of reading his work one full of extraordinary rewards and teeming satisfaction.
edward j rathke’s Noir: A Love Story comes on like Rashomon in overdrive, leaping giddily from folklore to metaphysical mystery, philosophical aperçu to Bukowskian spiel, dream journal to ideological critique, and somehow equally comfortable and adroit in each mode. Teetering between the urgency of present moments and the thrum of the primordial and timeless, Noir boldly documents the jarring, involuntary coming of age of a community and its denizens, demanding our fullest intellectual engagement but never ceasing to mesmerize.
Noir: A Love Story is a space held in surreality and wonder and love, the kind of love like holding your breath underwater to see the bright wonders of the sea just a bit longer, knowing it can not last, feeling the pain in your lungs, a prolonged and incandescent lyricism that signifies a brutalized and beautiful honesty of a single, elusive dream, the story that lives on as an impression or sustained note, the possessed writer who haunts the reader with his sublime vision, the reader who in turn remains haunted and unknowable. Indeed: “Time eats you. Dead or dreaming.”
You can check it out on Goodreads.
And then there’s the excerpt that came out at Atticus Review months ago.
And then Janice Lee interviewed me at HTMLGiant.