Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review - Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed

Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed by Marc Blatte
published 3/09
283 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Ride shotgun with Detective Black Sallie Blue Eyes on his quest to solve a murder at a downtown hip-hop club, and encounter a host of characters that run the gamut of NYC high and lowlife society from the projects of Far Rockaway to the mansions and manicured lawns of Westchester and the Hamptons--rapstar wannabes, hipster tweakers, Wittgenstein-spouting impresarios, fetishists, billionaires, and one Eastern European refugee dead-set on revenge old-school style.

My thoughts:

The first thing I did when I received this novel was look on Wikipedia to see what exactly a noir detective novel was - after all, this was pitched as "the first wonderful hip-hop noir novel", so I wanted to know what I was getting myself into.

Here's what I found:

Hardboiled detective fiction is a literary style which portrays crime and violence in an unsentimental way.


Noir fiction is the name sometimes given to a mode of crime fiction regarded as a subset of the hardboiled style. According to noir aficionado George Tuttle,

In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation. Other common characteristics...are the emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters. This type of fiction also has the lean, direct writing style and the gritty realism commonly associated with hardboiled fiction.

Okay, so now that I know what to expect, do I agree with the statement that this is a great hip-hop noir novel?

I think I do.

I will admit that I'm quite possibly not the target audience for this novel. I don't know that I've ever read another example of this style of detective story. (Though I'd be interested - anyone have any recommendations?) I don't really think that hindered my enjoyment of the novel, however - who knows, since I had nothing to compare it to, maybe it helped.

And I have definitely not read anything quite like this novel. From the first page, the author catapults his readers into the language and style of New York - from rappers to immigrants to pseudo-intellectuals, this is the story of New York and its inhabitants. Using a series of narrators, the author gives each character his own voice, and does so with authenticity and accuracy. It took me a while to get into the flow of the story, because the narration is SO stylized, but once the story itself had grabbed me, I stopped having trouble with the voice and started becoming immersed in the plot.

This is a gritty, action-packed novel, with action taking place on every page. Definitely plot-based, which was a nice change from what I had been reading, HDWP certainly lives up to the promise of viewing crime and violence in an unsentimental way. There are a lot of bad people in this novel, doing a lot of bad things, and you have to be able to stomach strong language and situations in order to make it through this novel.

There are also moments, however, that were quite beautiful - the immigrant from Kosovo discovering the beauty of America that exists outside the big city, and the detective taking a moment to remember his friends who perished in 9/11. These sections kept the novel from feeling overwhelming grim, and I appreciated them.

"The magnificent old trees, with their newly sprouted soft green leaves, lining both sides of the road were awesome. So were the graceful swans gliding in the pond he was passing. The old churches, the cemetery, and the stone buildings he saw were older than anything he'd seen yet in this new-fangled country of his. The whole thing looked authentic, solid, like you could make a real life for yourself here. When he came up to the pretty brick library with the American flag in front of it, he actually got a lump in his throat. Goosebumps, yo. He was feeling all mushy like when Ray Charles sang that song "Oh beautiful for spacious skies" on the Superbowl or some shit. He was believing in freedom and tolerance and other high-minded things that he'd heard this country was all about. Word, he had been living in the US of A for fourteen years and finally he had discovered America!"

I have to say I enjoyed this novel. It was very much out of my comfort zone, and I was a little bit worried at the start. But once I let the story get ahold of me, I found myself grinning, and rooting for the characters, and having quite a bit of fun. It made me interested in a new genre of books, and gave me a new author to look for in the future. (Also, I'm finding myself using "Word, yo!" in my internal dialogue - because I'm so gangsta.)

Finished: 9/19/09
Source: the publisher, via Lisa Roe
Rating: 7/10

This book counts toward -


Zibilee said...

Hmm, I've never actually come across a book like this, so your review was very interesting to me. I think that this might be something I would like to get a closer look at it at the bookstore, that way I could give it a few pages to see if I could get into it. Thanks for posting this. I wouldn't have seen it anywhere else, and it looks intriguing. Glad that you enjoyed it so much!

bermudaonion said...

Interesting. I would probably have trouble with the narration of this one since I am so out of it. I know nothing about hip-hop or current slang.

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

I've seen the terms noir around but didn't really understand them. I enjoyed your research.

Kailana said...

I was looking at this book the other day. I can't decide if it is for me or not. I just really liked the title... I might see if the library will buy it instead of me!