Some Thoughts About Gabriel Blackwell’s Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer

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Part sophisticated pastiche: a hardboiled egg painted a pulpy purple; part metafictional play employing the supposed objectivities of historiography; Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer is both a generous homage to classic detective fiction and an incisive critique of same, employing the genre’s detached and cynical narratological tone and style to, yes, evoke tension and apprehension, but to also displace those affects and effects. Blackwell is an artful ventriloquist, demonstrating in this fake-biography a sharp and muscular command of the hip argot of the so-called golden age of Hollywood noir films and American pulp fiction, a lingo as invented as it was inventive, a hyper-mediated discourse of various African- and Jewish-American discourses. True to the genres it circumvents, the text explodes with rapid-fire repartee, double-entendres, and incredibly elastic metaphorizing. A tangled tale of moral ambiguity, of the muddle that is human agency, it questions and complicates the dialectic of good and evil, presents historicizing as an overdetermined act, an act vitiated by various ethical, political, philosophical, and psychological subjectivities.

I also read Shadow Man as a post-genre intervention in conversation with texts like Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy and Robert Coover’s Noir, as well as various texts by Brian Evenson and Alain Robbe-Grillet, which all engage with the tropes of crime and detective fiction in manners which foreground not only the artifice of the genre’s narrative architectonics but also deep investigations of epistemological and ontological dilemmas.

Actually, Shadow Man might be thought of as a post-post-genre text, that is, an open text that quietly takes textual fusion and indeterminate structures not for granted, but as a part of the history of literary discourse offering further opportunities for provocative, productive disruption.

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