Philip M. Noir

Created by Robert Coover

"It was late afternoon when she first turned up at your office."

I guess we're supposed to be impressed by Noir (2010), Robert Coover's post-modern piece of meta-fiction, but I'm afraid I've never really been too big a fan of such things. And comparing it to Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (2009) isn't doing it any favours, at least in my mind.

Call it a spoof, and I may get a chuckle out of it. Tag it "satire" and I may even let out a guffaw. But don't slap it up on a pedestal and ask me to genuflect.

Maybe I'm just not smart enough to "get it" or too helplessly old-fashioned, the literary equivalent of telling those pesky kids to get off my lawn, but I find these things all too often simply poorly told tales full of clichés, half-assed plotting and self-indulgent writing, all smothered in a rich, literary sauce. There's something a little patronizing about the whole affair.

Noir is narrated in second person (of course) and YOU are PHILIP M. NOIR, Private Investigator. A babe hires you to find her late hubby's killer, but she gets offed before you can do much of anything. Or was she? And was she ever really your client?

And are you having fun yet?

As po-mo meta fiction goes, I didn't find it as compelling (or as entertaining) as Paul Auster's New York Trilogy (1985) which predated it by twenty-five years (and still left me rather puzzled), nor does it work particularly well as parody. It lacks the affection for (or familiarity with) its target that often drives the best parodies.


  • "Some passages, such as an extended riff on a prostitute whose tattooed skin is used by rival gangsters to send messages, are vintage Coover, over the top and funny. But others feel like a parody of an already dusty archetype (when Prairie Home Companion beats you to it, you're really late to the party)... Long-waiting Coover fans will still enjoy this lesser work for its language and imagery; mystery buffs will be mystified."

--Keir Graff, Booklist


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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