‘IF HE HOLLERS LET HIM GO’ by chester himes

Hollers-1Nathan Jefferson at The LA Review of Books:

Born in Cleveland to two teachers, Chester Himes had one of the fascinatingly varied backgrounds seemingly required for early 20th-century writers. Expelled from Ohio State for taking students to a speakeasy/brothel, he later served seven years in prison for his role in a jewel theft. While imprisoned, he began to write, eventually publishing several short stories in Esquire. After his release, he moved to Los Angeles and held 23 jobs in the three years he spent there — one of them was a screenwriting gig for Warner Brothers. Himes later said that “under the mental corrosion of race prejudice in Los Angeles I became bitter and saturated with hate,” and the fiction he wrote during this time reflects this attitude. He eventually became famous and financially comfortable thanks to the more conventional Harlem Detective novels he wrote as an expat in Paris, but his Los Angeles novels stand alone as singularly harsh examples of noir.

Himes well understood that the rhythms and motions of the detective novel are every bit as important as its plot. Indeed, it’s more accurate to say that motion drives plot; for the detective, locomotion matches and propels thought and reasoning. No one setting or state of consciousness has all the answers; it’s only through the continued movement from location to location that a full and complete image begins to emerge. It’s a tradition that has its roots in narrative ease — the first detective stories were serials, and a sequential, compartmentalized structure lends itself well to weekly installments — but soon became a cornerstone of the genre, even more so than first-person narration or femme fatales.

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