Borderline by Lawrence Block
Reviewed by Molly
Lawrence Block is one of noir’s most prolific writers, and his more than fifty novels cover all kinds of sub-genres. His latest contribution to society, Borderline, is a relic of the early fifties porn paperback industry and takes place in the alcohol-soaked hipster paradise of Juárez. This book has aged exceedingly well. The innuendo for a more conservative time now reads like a sly, welcome relief from the bluntness of a less-censored industry. Block’s stylish, stripped-down prose does not detract from the power of his erotic moments but instead seamlessly incorporates them into the overall narrative.
Borderline reads like a sexier, more disturbing On the Road. Characters speak in hip slang at cool coffeehouses and sexual proclivities of all kinds are not only tolerated, but encouraged. The story takes place over a few days and not too much happens. There are a couple murders,here and there, and a lot of sex without a whole lot of love, but the story carries with it a strong beatnik vibe that fits its picaresque narrative perfectly.
A divorcee, a runaway, a professional gambler, a jaded sex worker, and a serial killer see their paths cross in the steamy bars and permissive atmosphere of life across the border from a puritanical post-war America. Some characters are lucky to meet each other, others not so much. Descriptions of the sex industry combine with the homicidal urges of a stalker to portray a world none too friendly to women, but the female characters hold their own in dialogue and moxie.
In Borderline, Block has created a fascinating critique of Cold War conformity. In the taboo-free zone of Juárez, his characters find outlets to satisfy their pent-up urges, and the consequences are tragic and inevitable. In particular, the story’s resident serial killer is egged on in his obsessions by horror comics, and believes he is justified in committing murder as it elevates his victims out of obscurity.
Included in the volume are three short stories showcasing Block’s talent for the nasty, brutal and short as his characters occupy a Hobbesian world of endless struggle and arbitrary violence. Each story is a self-contained gem that reads well on its own or with the others. Add Borderline to your list of hard-boiled classics.
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