Rob Gregory Brown posted earlier this week about the bruising that occurs when someone doesn’t like your work.
I haven’t had any seriously negative responses to my book (yet), but I’ve gotten a fistful of comments objecting to the too-frequent use of the “F” word in VINNIE’S HEAD.
Well, okay: Johnnie, the narrator, says “fuck” a lot. Really a lot.
And there is a perfectly good argument to be made for not overusing potent verbal formulae.
And maybe I was guilty of overdoing it.
But I think there are good arguments for saying “fuck” a lot in fiction.
One is simple realism. A member of Long Island’s criminal underclass would naturally say “fuck” a lot. Who am I to stop him?
Evildoers from the President and Vice President on down to other, lesser criminals use the F-bomb routinely. Sometimes the microphone is left on. I’m okay with that.
Saying “fuck” a lot creates an atmosphere, a verbal baseline. Obscenity is the air Johnnie LoDuco breathes, emphatic profanity the way he understands the world. (Though he doesn’t understand it very well.)
Some of the occasional squeamishness about the “F” word may have its roots both in Puritanism and status anxiety. It’s a class thing. Only “vulgar” people use the f-word. It’s not a word for “polite” society. Sex and aggression and contempt snarled up in a single expletive.
So maybe saying “fuck” a lot is transgressive, subversive, if only in a slight way. Okay, a very slight way. But I think we need all the transgression we can get.
And I think crime fiction — hardboiled, neo-pulp, noir crime fiction, at least — is a subversive genre by nature, digging under scam and pretense. (Not sure if Vinnie fits exactly inside those categories, but the main character sure swears a lot.)
Profanity is a very minor part of this, sure, it’s one marker among many. But I think we need to leave it alone and give “fuck” some breathing room.
Or maybe I just use it too much.
Any thoughts on this?
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