Retail Noir: An extremely mixed bag at best

By Jenny Maurer

With the discourse and sense of uncertainty surrounding reopening retail stores during this period of the pandemic, I thought it’d be interesting to examine a collection entitled Retail Noir I was searching for an solid collection of Noir detective stories when I stumbled across this strange compendium of short stories. The assignment for  the writers included was to construct a story surrounding a fictional big box star called “Megamart” and boy,  the results are very mixed

Quite a few of the stories are not  noir but rather drift into genres like zombie horror or post apocalyptic satire. The former story mentioned, “Thirty one Hundred” by Loren Eaton, has entertaining deadpan dialogue but  the zombies concept is very cliche. The latter story, “Discount Primrose” by one Todd Mason, is a somewhat one dimensional satire of retail as religion. After an apocalypse,a  community of people turns a “MegaMart” into  a giant community shelter cum cult church. It’s not that this view isn’t valid, it’s just that it’s been done much sharper in films like Repo Man and novels such as Oryx and Crake. Moreover, when authors aren’t following genre rules, they’re constructing basic stories as an excuse to make mean spirited, lazy jokes about people who have different body weights, people who are lower class, or people who choose to dress a certain way.  It’s a real minefield of a collection for the most part.

Thankfully,  there are a few gems that stand out.  One of the most notable is Laura Benedict’s “Tenderloin”, a harrowing portrait of a brief fling between a butcher employee and a newly divorced woman. It’s a James M Cain romance from the woman’s perspective and it’s a much needed oasis in this compendium. Another harrowing read is “One in the Big Box” by Kieran Shea, a tragic account of the mundane surroundings during a violent hostage situation. Other  highlights include the slice of life with a side of shoplifting tale “Friday Night with  the Tijuana Wolfman” and the tense “Mondays and Thursdays”, a depiction of a thief with  shoplift addiction.

Despite the collection’s flaws,  I am still glad to have explored this book- it’s certainly an interesting look at a niche genre from an independent publisher that  gives  aspiring writers a chance, for good or for ill. I’d  also encourage people to check out the mystery section on libby app  for many other noir collections that are inspired by various cities from all over the world. All you need is your library card!

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