Like culture or a chronic condition, noir is a form of being in the world. Easily mistaken for the symptoms of its golden age—a particular black and white era in the imagination, a type of dress, a style of prose—noir is, nevertheless, loyal to none of that. Noir is a persistent suspicion, good at getting in to just about everything. Once inside, it sets to work, changing things—rearranging mental furniture and going monochromatic on the walls till all thoughts feng shui back to the same basic assumption: things are not what they appear.
Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home is a case of noir becoming terminal. It starts innocently enough. The novel’s protagonist Juniper Song, used to like to stay up late reading Raymond Chandler– so much so that she ruined her eyes doing it. The exploits of Phillip Marlowe served as her initiation, by proxy, into an underground world as remote from her nearly blemish-free child and young adulthood as any thing of fantasy could be. Nearly because she lost her father at a young age, before he could become a memory that would haunt her, but whose absence took on a presence when she recognized in Marlowe the figure of a father of the spiritual variety—someone to emulate.
By the time the events of Follow Her Home begin, Marlowe’s influence has trailed Juniper into her late twenties where she lives the ethereal life of an underemployed high-achiever on the drift. A first generation Korean-American with a degree from Yale, Juniper makes ends meet tutoring part time in Los Angeles, living a solitary life in a small, La Brea apartment—not unhappy, but not quite content—voraciously reading bleak detective tales to salve a trauma grimmer and more recent than the untimely demise of her unremembered father. When her old college friend Luke invites Juniper over, ostensibly for an apartment warming party at his posh new Hancock Park pad in a building called “The Marlowe,” only to reveal that he’d like her to snoop confidentially on Lori, another party guest who Luke believes may be secretly seeing his high-powered and unhappily married lawyer father, Juniper—like the soft-boiled wannabe she is—agrees.
June 17th, 2013 / 11:00 am