The street was hers: Deconstructing the hardboiled in Megan Abbott’s Noir Fiction

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In her critical study The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, Megan Abbott offers a reconsideration of the archetypal “tough guy figure,” illustrating what she perceives as hardboiled masculinity’s parasitic reliance on the Femme Fatale for its own preservation. Within this hermetic structuring of masculinity, one dependent on “remaining free from contagion,” Abbott argues that there is “no space for a woman who can volley masculine and feminine signifiers” (54). Via a reading of Abbott’s first two novels, Die a Little (2005) and The Song is You (2007), this essay argues that these early works can be read as an active engagement with and response to her own literary criticism, as she repositions feminine identity, agency, and subjectivity from the delimited margins of the hardboiled crime novel to the narrative center. Focusing on Abbott’s nuanced and complex reinterpretation of previously “passive” categorizations of femininity—such as the femme fatale, the voiceless victim, and the housewife—it suggests that Abbott’s work operates to shift the dominant gaze of the genre, destabilizing masculinity’s previously subjugating dependence on femininity for its own definition in the process. Consequently, the “house of cards” that is hardboiled masculine identity becomes severely under threat (Abbott 54). Although still relatively unexplored in critical discourse, this essay argues not only that Abbott’s work not builds upon that of writers such as Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, but also that she is a unique and important new voice in contemporary American crime fiction.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Pages (from-to)137-161
Number of pages24
JournalMean Streets: A Journal of American Crime and Detective Fiction
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

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