Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review- Femme Noir by Clara Nipper

Femme Noir
by Clara Nipper
Sept 2009
Contemporary (period)/ Lesbian/ Interracial/ Erotica
287 pg.- $12.95
Bold Strokes Books
Ebook version

Buy it Amazon (paper), ARe (ebook)

Womanizing tough broad Nora Delaney meets her match in Max Abbott, a sex-crazed dame who may or may not have the information Nora needs to solve a murder—but can she contain her lust for Max long enough to find out?

Dames, booze, and murder is the oldest story in the book, but this time, it happens too fast to Nora Delaney, who is a notorious womanizing college basketball coach. After her ex is found murdered, Nora chases the scent all the way from Los Angeles to Tulsa to find some right angles in this nasty business, only to be waylaid by a gorgeous, gin-swilling skirt who has information as well as an appetite for women like Nora.

Filled with cock-eyed optimism, vivid sexual fantasy, tough broads, and big babes who know their ways around drinks, trash talk, and murder, Femme Noir is a wry homage to retro outlooks of a bygone tough guy/femme fatale age. If you like sex and humor, this book is for you.

Yeah, um… I don’t quite know what to say about this book. It’s kind of all over the place with every cliché out there. But that over the top way about it was also what kept me interested in this book.

First, the blurb makes this book sound more exciting and noir-ish than it is. I bought this book because of the blurb. I really like noir and was hoping that it would be a female or lesbian version of the typical 40’s private dick type of book. Yes, it is sort of, in feel. Apparently, the paper version is done in old style typing font to add to the ambience I guess. For me though, I think the author took a risk that worked in some parts but were too ridiculous in others.

Let’s start with Nora. She’s a tough talking woman; a player who’s not too interested in the feelings of her partners. While it does seem like she doesn’t really care about anyone, we do get to see that Nora is not as tough as she likes to come across. She gets knocked for a loop a time or two, which I thought made her a bit more real and less a caricature.

She's gone to Tulsa to find out what happened to her ex, Michelle, who was murdered just after calling Nora one night. One thing I didn't get here was why. She and Michelle had an acrimonious split and Michelle wasn't exactly Mother Theresa with Nora, so that was missing for me. Why?

One thing I need to bring up, only because it’s mentioned over and over and over again is that Nora is a black woman. She makes reference to it many times describing her beautiful black body and the women she comes across mention it as well with various old school and modern descriptions for a person of color. She brings up racial discrimination on a regular basis, so there’s much ado about race in this story, which I think was both interesting and distracting.

The noir part of this story is that it’s set in some time anywhere between the 40’s and 90’s although no references were made to cell phones or such modern things that would give it a completely contemporary feel. Unfortunately, mostly this came off as a B grade 70’s flick with Nora using language typical to Blaxploitation films of the time. While she brings up quite often prejudices she’s faced, she also acts in a reverse prejudicial way, with stereotypical ideas of country people.

Racial or sexual blurbs:

“No you ain’t , cracker!

“Oh Tanya, honey chile!”

“You want me to call some brothers to take care of this cootchie for you?”

“Of course.” Tonya sat on the bed , crossing her molasses-colored legs in a breathtaking way.” (cinnamon and chocolate were used as well to describe Nora)

“Friend. You want me to draw you a map to Max’s cootchi? Nigga be a man.”

“I guess you’re the furniture,” I said, our eye’s met.” “Guess you’re the negro,” she answered tranquilly.

“If a nigga could just get a motherfuckin’ breath!” I shouted, leaning on the car for support, filling my chest with soaked air. (she’s complaining about Tulsa’s crappy air and allergies, a constant theme throughout the book as well)


On a plane to Oklahoma:

“If it was going to be a crowded airplane, I expected barefoot hillbillies in overalls and live chickens under their arms.”

“You’re just a corn-fed butter-eater, aren’t you?”

She’s shocked to find all normal people on the plane. This is what had me wondering what time period this is happening in. Then at the airport she comments to herself many times about her being the only black person in Tulsa and that the only other ones there were all doing menial jobs. She teases and insults the locals treating them as ignorant backwater types saying she’s from Uganda, as if they would be stupid and think all black people are from Africa, when they ask where she’s from. She’s from L.A. where I guess in this particular time period, black people are abundant. She also seems to find it strange that people are so kind and helpful, another country stereotype.

I get that in noir, old school noir, social conscience in language use is non-existent, or that stereotypes can be exaggerated, but much of this was over the top and offensive in some parts. I won’t even get into all the butch/femme stereotypes and references, which were numerous.

Next are the gaggle of exotic and weird characters that Nora meets. She’s told to meet a woman who apparently has all the inside connections in the lesbian world in Tulsa so she can find out what’s happened with Michelle. She meets with some women in a bar who tell her where to meet this person, but this woman, while acting like a gang leader on the surface, is nothing special in the end. This group of women, all with different quirks, don’t really have much to do with the story and don’t really further the plot, but seem to be there mainly to showcase Nora’s tough talking and acting ways.

She does meet the owner of the bar, Lila who with her partner, Reese are characters in themselves. They talk like women from those 30’s films, which was confusing with the mix of 70's slang throughout the rest of the book:

“I don’t mean anything, darling. It’s such a marvelous party. And I love any excuse for a good party, don’t I Reese Angel?”

Reese pulled Lila back and wagged her finger in her face. “Lila, my queen, you mustn’t arouse suspicion. Remember whose girl you are.”

“What a bore. But as you wish, Reese Cup.” Lila grinned at me but then stood straight and solemn with a pouty mouth to face Reese. “I’m a harmless flirt. Simply everybody says so. You’re such a square.”

Then there is Max. According to the blurb, Max is a sex-crazed dame. Um, no. She’s more an elusive 30's type woman who sort of engages Nora in a sexual flirtation, but is not as mysterious as the author tried to portray her. Mostly, Nora has it bad for Max, but her interactions with Max are mostly through Nora’s fantasy life. She imagines conversations and sex with Max throughout the book, while Max herself comes only as close as she wishes.

One other thing that drove me nuts throughout this whole book was Nora’s constant search for a cigarette. She’s so proud that she hasn’t bought a pack of ciggys in a year, trying to quit. And yet, she's either thinking about having a ciggy, craving a ciggy, begging for a ciggy, or smoking a ciggy at every single turn. Really, I wanted to just say buy a dammed pack of ciggy’s a smoke to your heart’s content. Personally, I thought it was a plot device to make Nora a bit more stereotypically hard-nosed, but mostly it got on my nerves.

On to good things about this story, I did enjoy Clara Nipper’s writing style. She came out with some really colorful phrasing that grabbed me:

“Just great. They’re going places, I think” I put my face in my drink as if it were an oxygen mask.”

“In spite of myself, I laughed and slapped Ava-Suzanne on the back. As if they were monkey’s following the group, everyone else laughed too.”

In the end, there is character growth, which I liked as well. Nora gets in touch with things about herself that she’s denied, like wanting family and people that really care about her. This is one of the main things that kept me hooked into this story, besides the quirkiness of a lot of it. And it did have a certain unique ambience to it that made it interesting enough to keep reading.

I think if you’re looking for a different kind of read, one that takes you on a wild trip with odd characters, this book will be good. There’s no romance in this story though, so if you’re looking for that, it’s not happening.

Heat level: 5 --There are some very graphic sexual scenarios although not an excessive amount.

Grade: C+


M. A. said...

I'm not sure how I feel about this book after reading your review, LVLM. The book sounds like it has a genuine originality and "arty-ness" I find very tempting as a prospective read.

The "blaxploitation" angle doesn't thrill me, though. It's amazing how enduring "blaxploitation" has proved in fiction. An extremely popular current bestseller focuses on pre-Civil Rights Mississippi and capitalizes on every stereotype and caricature imaginable. Naturally, the book's author is a Northern White woman who has no clue about her subject.

LVLM said...

M.A. Yes, I think I got where the author was coming from or tried to do. I don't feel that she meant to to be offensive, but in parts it's how it came across.

I did think she was bold to write a full on Black character, including some black history and so on, but I don't know, it was a bit too much for me.

It is a sassy book and it is unique to most of the books I read. On that level I enjoyed it.

I went to the author's web site and she appears to be not black. But really, I don't judge a book based on an author's race. It's irrelevant. Like I feel it's kind of irrelevant that a woman writes gay men if she's a good writer.

I was very attracted to the lesbian world in this. I think the author definitely knows the world of butch/femme dynamics and that was fun even if I felt that was stereotyped as well.

Meh... what to say. I think if the author had stuck to one era of language like the 30's-40's and not mixed them up with 70's slang then it would have come across less racist or offensive.

M. A. said...

I don't judge a book based on an author's race. It's irrelevant. Like I feel it's kind of irrelevant that a woman writes gay men if she's a good writer.

I hope no one ever declines to give a good writer just due for good work based upon the writer's bigraphical characteristics.

I think, however, when an author undertakes the project of presenting a setting, region, and culture, the author has a responsibility to seek some degree of authenticity.