I'm usually a neophile who enjoys exploring places I've never been through books. Yet sometimes I read fiction that takes place in a city that I know. I'm originally a New Yorker, but I've now lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than thirty years. Noir is not in accordance with my preferences as I've mentioned before on this blog, but I thought I might like a noir novel that takes place amidst neighborhoods, streets and landmarks that are familiar to me. That's why I accepted a free review copy of American Static by Tom Pitts from the publisher through publicist Wiley Saichek.
As I've indicated I'm not an ideal reader for this book and I probably shouldn't have chosen to read a noir crime thriller that takes place in a city that I love. A city is multi-faceted like a human being. It can't be summed up in one phrase. San Francisco isn't just a tourist mecca. It isn't just a refuge for aging hippies from the sixties either, though you can certainly find them. It isn't a multicultural utopia as some would like to portray it, but neither is it sin city awash with lawlessness, sleaze, drugs and corruption as it appears to be in American Static. That side of San Francisco does exist. I've been there. So I can vouch for its authenticity, but it makes me queasy to acknowledge it. I wouldn't feel that way if Tom Pitts were writing about a city to which I have no connection like Baltimore or Detroit.
I originally thought that "static" was a rather ironic descriptor for this novel. A static plot is one in which nothing is happening. People just sit around talking about past events, and there's no action. American Static is the opposite of that sort of narrative. Violence is ubiquitous, and almost constant. One of the viewpoint characters is a serial killer. There is also another character who turns out to be a serial killer. I tend to avoid serial killer novels because I prefer complex characters. Serial killers seem shallower than people with a moral compass because there really is a missing dimension in their personalities. They are fixated on themselves, and don't view other people as human beings. So empathy or compassion are impossible for them. They won't have any doubts about their decisions, inner conflict or guilt. People who aren't serial killers may put their empathy aside temporarily during an emergency when they are fighting for their survival, but the serial killer is in a permanent state of anomie, lacking connection to the rest of humanity. Some readers may find this difference interesting or unexpected. I have seen this personality often enough in crime novels that I find them predictable. They can't grow as characters which makes them "static". A static character is one who doesn't change. So "static" in the title could be referring to serial killers.
I consider American Static a fairly typical noir novel. So if the noir experience is what you wanted from this book, you should be satisfied with it. It isn't the deepest darkest noir possible which has left me with the horrifying feeling that justice doesn't exist. There is justice in the resolution of this novel. There is even a possibility that HEA (Happily Ever After) might exist. That's pretty upbeat for noir. I wasn't left with a warm and fuzzy glow that you might expect from a book at the cozier end of the spectrum, but Tom Pitts does provide us with an ending on a relatively hopeful note.