Snubnose have been around for a while, now, on the outlaw fringes of the digital publishing world. They concentrate on shorter works, on novellas and novelletes, on hard, tight, compact works of crime fiction. And they’re known for looking for the unusual and the different in their authors. They've got an ethos, they've got a plan and they're home for the unusual, the unique and the po
Nothing Matters is certainly different.
Nothing Matters is a poem.
A 20k, freeform noir poem.
In the final version, perhaps sensing that a freeform noir poem could be a difficult sell, Nothing Matters comes to us in a double edition with a more prose-like version following the main event. So if you still fancy the story, you’ll be able to read it in a more comfortable format.
Our advice is:
Nothing Matters works best in its scattered, fragmented, poetic format. The scattering of words across the page and the placement of white space matter. They always do, of course. I remember reading an interview with Don Winslow regarding his amazing “Savages”, where he talks about he deliberately chopped chapters to make the reader read the work in a certain way and at a certain pace.
That’s what’s happening with the poem version of Nothing Matters.
That’s what gives it its power.
I’m not a poetry enthusiast, so can’t talk too much technical detail on form, but discovered two things happened when I read the poem version:
1) Different sections made me read at very different paces, resulting in different moods to the piece. The way you read really does affect the way a book “sounds” in your head
2) The poem version really separates the dual narrative voices of Z and X; you’re never really in any doubt who you’re reading, and a lot of that has to do with the pace of the poetry and the way it makes you read.
It’s a great and unique approach to the noir genre. The only other time I’ve seen anything like this was Toby Barlow’s “Sharp Teeth”, a werewolf thriller also told entirely in verse.
The cut back nature of poetry means that the book really works for me in terms of voice and evocative atmosphere. It comes close to outstaying its welcome, but cuts off at more or less the right moment before you begin to wish for a less concentrated and fragmented experience (you can only pull that kind of thing off for so long… unless you’re James Ellroy, and even then “The Cold Six Thousand” showed up the fragmented form’s limitations).
What about the story itself?
Well, it’s nothing too new. Z is a manipulator. Of men, mostly. She’s the classic femme fatale model, leading people around by their basest desires, using sex as a weapon, letting people use her as their excuse for their own downfall. She’s messed up herself, of course, but it seems to be more of an inbuilt thing than anything else. She’s a classic psychopath, and even when we’re reading the verses from her point of view, there’s a chilling coldness that disintegrates the reader’s sympathy with her.
X on the other hand, is the classic chump. He’s fallen for Z. Fallen hard. Can’t let her go. He knows what she does (or at least thinks so) and yet he’s drawn to her. Classic moth to the flame. Classic noir archetype.
Perhaps that’s why the poem format holds so much more appeal. The basic story is engaging thanks to the characterisation of our two leads, but its nothing new under the sun. In fact it relies quite heavily on tropes we have seen before, but this works in the poem’s favour, allowing us to follow the story and delight in the language. The poem is about obsession, weakness, delusion, power, fear and emptiness. I couldn’t help feeling there were more than a few debts owed to James Ellroy, both in inspiring the spare style of the poetry (in terms of prose, Ellroy comes closes to poetry in his style) and in the sometimes explicit nature of violence and sex that crops up through the story.
Are there problems?
Well, yes. Some scenes zip by so fast you have to re-read a few lines to get a sense of where we are, and what’s happening. But given that “Nothing Matters” is a mood piece, this isn’t a huge problem.
And by the end, perhaps the sex is laid on a little thick. Nothing particularly offputting, but more that we’ve seen Z’s seductress femme-fatale side more than enough, and nothing about it really surprises us, although its decidedly not for the faint of heart.
Those mild criticisms aside, “Nothing Matters” is a great attempt to do something very different in the noir tropes. Its strength lies in its style and form, and while it’s interesting to see the prose version following, the poem is where it’s at, and the way the words are laid out (yes, even in digital form, which is quite a feat given how many books seem to be unable to handle even the simplest of formatting in that domain) really give this piece a sense of mood that few noir writers reach. It’s not the most original of plots, but that runs to the books advantage, allowing readers to focus and groove on the spare, pointed and brutal language that marks “Nothing Matters” out as something new, different and exciting in a market that can occasionally rely too much on safe bets and sure things.
Think you know poetry?
Think again, do yourself a favour and seek out a copy of Finbow’s noir-verse-novella.
Russel D McLean for crimescenescotland, 21/01/13