In these stories, you’ll find no midnight epiphanies in a parking lot about a relationship gone sour. Instead, you’ll encounter revenge, rape, murder gone wrong, power-positioning between rival gangs, sorry-ass selfish acts committed without regard for others and occasionally, like a flower finding its color in a parched landscape, compassion and hope. Of course, this is noir, so you know that flower won’t last.
But what is crime fiction? To me, crime fiction doesn’t shy away from violence and the nature of the violent. Literary fiction explores those facets as well, but often in literary fiction the crimes are pushed into subtext or otherwise rendered off-stage. Whereas the literary story is often concerned with how characters react to a given situation, crime fiction is obsessed with showing us how we behave during the situation itself. One methodology is not superior to the other, but the different approaches coax subtle shades from these fundamental human experiences.
I used to consider crime fiction, and genre fiction in general, as inferior to the literary. But genre work exercises every facet of attractive literary writing, and often does so without becoming self-obsessed. After all, literary fiction is just another genre invented by people that needed to shelve books. As a measure of worth, the designations of genre are woefully lacking and I wanted to show the PANK audience the range of writing that I’ve encountered and enjoyed in the crime community.
In this issue, we have the precisely rendered brutality of Anthony Neil Smith, the lump and tumble, eroding style of Frank Bill, Keith Rawson wrestling strangeness from a quotidian, domestic situation. We have the noir recipe of Art Taylor, one of the very rare instances where second person narration actually fits the form. We have a virtuosic display of voice from Aaron Morales, the internal moral compass of Eric Shonkwiler, Kyle Minor demonstrating that a poem blurring the lines between sex and violence is a worthy vehicle for criminal themes, and of course we have Chris Offut, whose hardscrabble characters have to claw for their dignity and position in a world where things never go right.
It’s that sense of expected catawampus that most attracts me to noir and crime fiction. I find in the pages and screens of these writers a world where the awry is customary, where winning often means losing almost everything. That’s the sort of world in which I most often find myself, a world seemingly hell-bent on grinding its occupants into paste.
Welcome to PANK’s crime issue.