This essay examines three twentieth-century practitioners of the Los Angeles variant of Noir nonfiction: the radical historian and architectural critic Mike Davis; the fiction writer, screenwriter, and journalist Joan Didion; and the novelist, reporter, and memoirist John Gregory Dunne. “Noir nonfiction” is meant to refer to a crossover mode that exports elements from the Noir tradition—particularly, an ethos of suspicion that often expresses populist anger at public corruption, elite hypocrisy, and suburban ennui—into an experimental mode of reportage that challenges the predominantly realist norms of mainstream journalism. The essay begins by examining Dunne’s fictional True Confessions (1977) and his report on Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers’ campaign, Delano (1967); moves to Davis’s history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz (1992); and closes with Didion’s “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” (1966).
When Noir Meets Nonfiction
Christopher Wilson teaches English and American studies at Boston College. He is the author, most recently, of Learning to Live with Crime: American Crime Narrative in the Neoconservative Turn (2010). His essays on American fiction and the contemporary journalism of poverty, war, and transnational movement have appeared in American Literature, American Quarterly, Raritan, and other journals. Currently he is at work on a student introduction to reportage.