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"Prison Noir"

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Edited by Joyce Carol Oates

The stories in Prison Noir have a sameness of setting, being written by prison inmates about prison plots and themes, but they diverge in tone and focus, and have just as much sophistication in structure and theme, as any short piece of fiction by any professional. I enjoyed them quite thoroughly – to an extent that surprised me.

The stories cover a gamut: one piece details the experiences of a man imprisoned in solitary for so long that he hallucinates that he has a highly unwelcome (but rather well-read) cellmate. Other stories offer the possibility of pitched physical battle, but never come to it; other stories offer us and the characters insights about charity, redemption, freedom. One thing they all have in common, and there’s no mistake about Joyce Carol Oates’s editing influence here, is the accurate portrayal of the human spirit under duress. Characters’ hopes in this volume will mainly be dashed, and the better the prisoner adapts to his or her incarcerated life, the better their chances at long-range survival.


I recommend this slim volume of short stories. They convey to us the claustrophobia and constant tension of inmates, and the unavoidable toll these take on lives and psyches. They also reveal to us a highly talented group of writers with a wide variety of thematic concerns. A highly admirable collection, worth some of your time. 
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