Stab by Chris Adrian from Best American Noir of the Century – review

best american noir of the centuryReviewed by Gary Phillips

“Stab” by Chris Adrian is a chilling tale not solely for it’s up close and personal violence, though there is that, but because our main actors are children. The events are set during the summer and winter of 1979 in a white-flight suburb of Washington, D.C., Severna Forest. As in the classic chronicles of alienation by the likes of Goodis and Woolrich, the story is told from the first person viewpoint of the damaged narrator – in this case 8-year-old Calvin Cole. He hasn’t spoken since the death of his mirror twin brother, Colm, from cancer, two years before. He and Colm were co-joined twins via their backs, separated when they were eighteen months old. His brother’s death as had an effect on the youngster more than just causing him to go quiet.

Oh, and as Calvin tells us in the opening sentence, “Someone was murdering the small animals of our neighborhood.”

Calvin isn’t curious about these escalating acts, and doesn’t set out to find out who’s doing these horrible deeds. When he does find out, he doesn’t try to blackmail the person or seek to manipulate them in some way as might a twisted teenager or an adult in that situation. But the story isn’t included in this collection for giggles. Something’s not quite right with Calvin or the one doing the stabbing. What unfolds in “Stab” is an odyssey of crime and creepiness, and finally, a reawakening for young Calvin – a child who has willingly or not, found himself standing on the edge and wants to be pushed, to plunge into the gloom below.

Adrian does a good job of the sly matter-of fact way in which Calvin tells us about the progression of events during that time period in his hometown. There’s even a racial angle to what is an all-white cast of characters. Because Adrian tamps down the use of adjectives, the narrator is very effective in conveying his clinical, dispassionate detachment for most of the story, and why little insight is sought or gained into the mind of the troubled knife wielder.

“Stab” gets the job done.

***

Gary Phillips’ latest is The Underbelly from PM Press. He reads the first chapter on Crimewav at:

He is the author of the Ivan Monk series which includes Perdition U.S.A., Violent Spring, Bad Night Is Falling and Only the Wicked and the Martha Chainey series which includes High Hand, Shooter’s Point and The Perpetrators. He is also the author of the novels The Jook, Bangers, Midnight Mover, Freedom’s Flight and The Underbelly

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

One Reply to “Stab by Chris Adrian from Best American Noir of the Century – review”

  1. I like Chris Adrian’s stories a lot, but I’d never pegged him as a noir writer. It’s a pretty inspired choice, and great review.