Dallas Noir edited by David Hale Smith

Dallas Noir edited by David Hale Smith
Akashic Books
New York
November 5, 2013
Paperback, 283 pages

Dallas Noir editor David Hale Smith

Dallas Noir is a collection of short stories set in a mix of neighborhoods in and surrounding Dallas, Texas. The “noir” part of the title refers to the genre of fiction where the main character usually is not the protagonist of the story, but instead is the perpetrator or victim of some type of unusual activity that never ends well. Dallas Noir was released earlier this month by Akashic Books of New York City. The editor of Dallas Noir, David Hale Smith, is a charismatic and successful literary agent who lives in Dallas and commutes to New York City. If we are going to commemorate the milestone anniversary of the worst crime ever committed in Big D, why not precede it with a few tales of bad luck, bad choices, and bad timing?
Akashic Books, an independent book publisher, was founded in 1996 by Johnny Temple, a bass player in the 80’s and 90’s bands Soulside and Girls Against Boys. You have to like a publisher who describes themselves as “… a Brooklyn-based independent company dedicated to publishing urban literary fiction and political nonfiction by authors who are either ignored by the mainstream, or who have no interest in working within the ever-consolidating ranks of the major corporate publishers.” Also, the website banner for the publisher reads “Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World.” Aksashic Books has already published 58 books that I counted in its Noir series. Both U.S. and international cities are represented. There’s Barcelona, Chicago, D.C., Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Rome, Toronto, and Venice Noirs. I really look forward to reading the Havana, Paris, and U.S.A. Noirs.

I had the pleasure of going to a preview event and was able to purchase a copy of the book approximately a week before it’s official release. Most of the authors were there and each talked about their story in the anthology. Of course, I loved perusing this genre that I have not approached for a few years since I read a noir story or two in Under Maui Skies. Now that I know about Akashic’s noir series, I plan on visiting the underbelly of some of those other cities.

Dallas Noir authors Jonathan Woods and Matt Bondurant
 —Dallas Noir authors J. Suzanne Frank and Kathleen Kent
If you look at the Table of Contents for Dallas Noir, you see that there are three sections: Cowboys, Rangers, and Mavericks, akin to the three sports teams that represent the “metroplex” in the order they came to town. Most of the names of the short story writers were somewhat familiar to me. Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevarra and the recent Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Daniel J. Hale, one of the instructors in the SMU Writer’s Path are in the Cowboys section. I recently heard Mr. Fountain speak at the Mayborn Conference. I didn’t previously know or recognize anyone in the “Rangers” section and at least two of these authors are first time published. Merritt Tierce, who wrote “The Private Room,” seems like a budding Mary Gaitskill to me (from her own description of her story). She will soon have her first book published as well. Lauren Davis from New Orleans wrote “Full Moon,” and is a new author. The newly published Fran Hillyer is a retired teacher that was Mr. Hale’s instructor at the Episcopal School of Dallas. Her story deals with that terrible time when one’s loved ones are not living anymore, just existing. The third “Mavericks” section has six stories and at least two of the authors I am very familiar with and recommend their works. One of these is Kathleen Kent, whose 3 books I have reviewed on the blog. The other was my writing instructor for a class I took a couple of years ago at SMU. J. Suzanne Frank is also the director of The Writer’s Path at the university and has written a number of novels. Even though I don’t personally know them, Harry Hunsicker and Catherine Cuellar are well-respected Dallasites. Also in the section and the last story in the book is a work entitled “Swingers Anonymous” that author Jonathan Woods hopes will soon be made into a short film.
Some of the story themes in Dallas Noir range from West Nile virus, retribution for old killings, mobsters versus lawmen, drug use gone wrong, horrifyingly poor choices, amazing coincidences, robbery, accidental car wrecks, family ties, exes, and, of course, greed. Even though I am extremely familiar with most of the settings, you don’t have to know the neighborhoods to still enjoy these stories. You can get a feel of the areas from the writing. You can also get a good idea of how many see Dallas and especially of what many don’t see.