Reading in the Arroyo: An Occasional Column about Books

'Santa Fe Noir' edited by Ariel Gore

A noir sensibility is more of a feeling than a setting or a type of plot. Noir is defined by darkness, certainly, but even more so by duality. A noir story is as much about what's illuminated by sunshine as what lurks in the shadows.

David Lynch tried to define this ineffability.

"Noir has a mood that everyone can feel," he once said. "It's people in trouble, at night, with a little bit of wind and the right kind of music. It's a beautiful thing."

In addition to its average 283 sunny days a year, Santa Fe is loomed over by the mysterious, majestic Sangre de Cristo mountains. In this way and many others, the City Different never lacks for a certain darkness—so the new short–story anthology Santa Fe Noir is a natural fit as the latest in a long line of city-centered noir titles published by Akashic Books.

"Too often the story of Santa Fe has been told only by the conquerors and the tourism PR firms," editor Ariel Gore writes in the introduction, explaining the city's close relationship to a particular murkiness. "Conquered and reconquered, colonized and commodified, Santa Fe understands—from historical genocide to the murders of family members — the intimacy of violence."

The anthology's 17 stories examine the underbelly of the City of Holy Faith, swooping from Eldorado to Ten Thousand Waves to the abandoned St. Catherine Indian School, up to the Santa Fe National Forest and into a hotel room at La Fonda. (Full disclosure: SFR senior correspondent Julia Goldberg served as associate editor for the anthology.)

There is a real charm to the local specificity of Santa Fe Noir, and it's a pleasure to discover how different imaginations can channel the chiaroscuro energy of well-known places. In Katie Johnson's story "All Eyes," the witchy log huts on the Aspen Vista Trail become an eternal haunt for a ghostly girlfriend. Tomas Moniz imagines a topography of violence and resistance on a night drive between Albuquerque and Santa Fe in "I Boycott Santa Fe," writing "all those deaths, all that history of violence, spreading across the desert. The arroyos. The stories of Natives resisting US soldiers, of Chicanos resisting ranchers and hippies, of women resisting machista men." In "SOS Sex" by Hida Viloria, the parking lot at Owl's Liquors is the scene of a gruesome retribution. But after the act is completed, the perpetrator walks down Hickox Street and quaffs an Angry Orchard Hard Cider on the warm, bright patio at the Tune-Up Café.

Perhaps the most engrossing story is Darryl Lorenzo Wellington's "The Homeless Detective," set in and out of the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete's Place on Cerrillos Road. Wellington's vagrant hero, Leo Malley, is an unreliable narrator, a lifelong alcoholic who is homeless after surviving a house fire. Grappling with mental illness and PTSD, he's been reading about mysteriously familiar-sounding murders in The Santa Fe New Mexican.

Wellington pens a moving portrait of the daily sensory gauntlet Leo undergoes: "The street traffic surrounded him like swarms of locusts. The cars blazed like flashlights inside a pinball machine. He bounced here, there, and back and forth, a pinball surrounded by sounds, brrnnngs."

If the noir genre originally grew out of a World War II-era disillusion with humanity, then it certainly should find its way into commentary on the homeless situation in Santa Fe. Wellington lets the cognitive dissonance of the Pete's Place counselors—"proposing plans, services, options"—sink in. "The Homeless Detective" reveals the absurdity of the precarious systems in place for people like Leo, as well as the hopeless futility of trying to piece back together a "house cat" sort of life, as Leo calls it, once it has crumbled to his circumstances. But despite his perch way out there on the margins of society and the $3.85 that defines his net worth, Leo knows something the police don't. He might even be a hero.

These unexpected complexities make Santa Fe Noir worthwhile. The homeless man is either a killer or a savior, no one is simply good or bad, and facts and legends are inverted and complicated. In these pages, La Llorona is much more than a grief-stricken -wanderer, she's the historical conscience of a city.

"We have cried rivers of tears for all the children," Israel Francisco Haros Lopez writes in a graphic novel treatment of the classic tale. "Don't let the colonizer say our story is about a madwoman who killed her children. It's more complicated than that. It always is…"

Santa Fe Noir Reading and Screening of The Third Man:
4 pm Sunday, March 15. $10-$20 (includes book).
Jean Cocteau Cinema,
418 Montezuma Ave.,

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