We asked all the contributors to LA Noire: The Collected Stories to tell us their thoughts on why Los Angeles is so associated with noir. Read Megan Abbott’s story “The Girl” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.
Noir in both fiction and film has taken rich advantage of cities like San Francisco (Hammett) and New York (Spillane, Himes). No city—or region—truly owns noir, which is a mood, a feeling, a set of universal principles (no sin goes unpaid for; desire will doom you).
But, for me any many others, its deepest roots lie in the lush turf of Los Angeles. No other place evokes, with such extremity, noir’s foundational opposition: that there are two worlds, the world of daytime—of family, respectability, business, progress—and night—of crime, corruption, danger.
In his book City of Quartz, Mike Davis terms this opposition “sunshine vs. noir,” capitalist utopia and urban nightmare, land of “milk and honey” and city of “seduction and defeat.” And, maybe most of all, no other city has Hollywood. From Sunset Boulevard to L.A. Confidential to L.A. Noire itself, noir offers up countless tales of failed starlets and shattered dreams. Not a physical location, not even an industry, Hollywood stands as a bright symbol of limitless promise that gives way to decadence and ruin.
Los Angeles is, by geographic fate, the dropping-off of the American frontier. Manifest Destiny at its endpoint. You reach your dream here or you’ve lost it forever. Raymond Chandler, L.A. noir’s founding father, once said, “I have lived my life on the edge of nothing.” The edge of nothing: that is where Los Angeles sits, precarious, beautiful—a femme fatale waiting for her kiss.
Megan Abbott is the Edgar-award winning author of five novels. She has taught literature, writing, and film at New York University, the New School and the State University of New York at Oswego. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University in 2000. She lives in New York City. Her new novel The End of Everything will be published in July 2011. Start reading on Facebook and follow Megan on Twitter.