Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Siren Song of a Good Mystery/Solving My Own

I have a love/hate relationship with mysteries. I love to read them but I am so impatient that I can barely get through them. I always want to know NOW how it ends. I’ll scan-read paragraphs on a page—for pages at a time—trying to hasten my progress, and then I will get frustrated and go back and reread each and every word all that I just scanned. Because I don’t want to miss a word.

I had been hearing good things about A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Elleroy. It is really big in the UK (Number 4 on the bestseller chart on British Amazon). I couldn’t find a copy in America. And who wants to pay shipping from England? I discovered the author had a blog so I left a comment on it, asking how one gets a copy of his book here in the Colonies. And would you believe that he not only responded (!) he sent me a copy of said book (!!) and some copies of his other books (!!!) I have renewed my faith in the kindness of strangers. Oh, the humanity.

Anyway, so many mysteries have a big whiz-bang payoff in the end, but the book is tedious or just so poorly written that it isn’t worth the effort of reading. I just don’t get it. It seems its rare to find a modern writer who is an expert at plot and usage of language. This thriller, I’m happy to say, satiates my desire for beautiful prose and a great ending. The story unfolds in both present tense and through reflection, which is such a great plot device to keep tension up and get you motivated to read the next chapter.

It takes place in Georgia and New York City. Ellery was so spot on with syncopations of language and the subtleties of manners and idiosyncrasies of American culture that I can’t believe he isn’t from America. The book deals with World War II and racism and human rights all those things that would have been so nice to leave in the past. It boggles the mind, that here were are, in 2008, and we are still in wars and dealing with racism and human rights.

Elleroy’s style is evocative of writers like Dennis Lehane—they both write books that are filed under the Mystery banner but they are much suited for the literature category, like To Kill a Mockingbird. This book, I can totally see as a film.

And I am now freaked out about feathers, because in the book feathers symbolize death and bad things happen whenever they turn up. I saw some today out on the street—one drifted slowly slowly slowly onto the stroller—and I freaked. Plus our couch and cushions are stuffed with feathers so I see those little buggers everyday. Last thing I need is another talisman of doom.

On a side note, I was the editor of the Mystery and Thriller section of a now-defunct magazine about books. The best part was I was so not knowledgeable about mysteries when my editor gave me that beat. So I had a lot of reading to do to get me even partially up to speed. It really makes me miss the days when i was paid to write, edit and read. Please, again, someone explain to me why that wasn't making me happy? Because now it seems like heaven. Do I suffer from Reinvention of History?

I have ten books stacked on my night stand tat I am not paid to read, so many emails to respond to and phone calls to make. I’ve been writing more lately (things not posted here, which feels like cheating) and that goes a long way to giving my nights and life a little purpose and direction. But there just aren’t enough hours in the day, and not enough answers to my own damn mysteries.

I am always looking for a good book recommendations. So if you have any, put them in the Comments!

Pictured above, Miss Madeline and Miss Avery exploring books that we don’t want them to touch. Avery’s hand on Madeline’s back is maybe the cutest thing I have ever seen. Below that, looks who’s feeding herself. Madeline has a great little pincer grip going on but about half of what she tried to put in her mouth end up on her lap. Here’s yesterday’s lunch. Notice the lone blueberry. She managed to get most of those in her little mouth!


Anonymous said...

I agree, that it the cutest thing I've seen. It's such a pity we can't always get all the cute things our kids do on camera in time. They really are cute.

calliope said...

I am so geeked out that the author hooked you up like that! Thank goodness it was a good book too.

I fell out of my reading schedule & need to get back to it. thanks for the reminder of how awesome a great book can be,


Blue Pearl said...

Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks
Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimanmanda Adichie

Thanks for the mystery rec. I've always like Michael Connelly and Elizabeth George

Yes, Avery's hand on her sister's back is precious.

Anonymous said...

They look like they are really thirsting for knowledge! So freakin' cute. The twins cuteness... it's just too much sometimes, no?

nailgirl said...

How adorable is that picture?

gold star said...

the brief wonderous life of oscar wao by junot diaz.

it is so very lovely.

MsPrufrock said...

Love, love, love that photo. Adorable.

I would have sent you the book myself, but obviously getting it (and others) directly from the author is ever so slightly cooler. Just a tiny bit.

francesca said...

That is an awesome story about the author. It totally evoked a very strong memory for me.

Back in the day, we had one of the pre-cursors to the internet - CompuServe for anyone who remembers - on my dad's old Apple IIe. It had a miniscule black and white screen, and a HUGE dot matrix printer (with the holes on the side that you had to tear off), and while I mostly used it to write book reports (hello dork), usually making the title pages with my *favourite* font named 'Ransom', I also discovered the wonderful world wide web.

And, like you, used it to find an author. I loved the books of Cynthia Voigt and somehow tracked her down on there. I remember her little page so clearly, with her home (!!) address listed. I sent off my own beloved copy of Izzy Willy Nilly, with a long letter about how much I loved her books and what they meant to me, and questions I had about the characters, and how she came up with them. And then in a little PS note, I asked if she had any time at all (clearly if she had somehow gotten through that letter of mine...), I would love it if she could sign my book. And I enclosed some money (Canadian dollars) for her to send the book back (from the US!).

But she did. And included a long letter back, and inscribed the book, "to (name), who may or may not become an author, but will love words her whole life." I fell, fell hard for books, authors, and here I am now, about 18 years later, doing a doctorate in literature and film. And I still remember what it felt like to get a personal letter, from an author saying that my questions and ideas about her stories were just as fascinating as her novels themselves.

Anyway, I thought I'd include the story because despite it just being a book in the mail, I totally know that there is so much more emotion in that little gift. I don't have any good mystery suggestions right now, but see if I can think of something that is mystery-like but in a different genre.

Have you read Jhumpa Lahiri's new book? I didn't love the namesake but thought the stories in Interpreter of Maladies were remarkable and so evocative.

Did you read Chuck Palahniuk's kind of recent novel, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey? Parts of it were really disturbing, but I LOVED how he played with the genre of autobiography, of biography, of the difficulty of telling a story of a life. I don't love all of his work, but there were some incredible twists of narrative, form, character in that one. Doesn't really fall into the mystery genre, per se, but the story itself had mini-mysteries throughout it all.

And Avery's hand on Madeline's back is the most adorable little moment. What perfect serendipity that you were there to catch it.

whatthef*ck said...

holy crap, my baby (dob 5/29) weighs 15lbs, 6 oz, has no teeth whatsoever, still falls over backwards when sitting up, and shows no signs of crawling whatsoever. go figure. she does babble a ton so that's good. amazing how different babies of the same age can be.


Awesome must be great to have a sister.

Not a big fan of mysteries- lack the patience of seeing who the hell chopped up the victim.

ps. Screw the homophobic playground witch- What an a-hole. When these babies come into this mysterious world we can have a playdate.

judy said...

I am desperate for a new book....would almost give up my first born for one

KD said...

The photo of your girls, with Avery's hand on Madeline's back, reminds me of my favorite photo of my sister and I, taken some 30'ish years ago. I am about five, stretched out on my stomach watching TV, with my chin propped up in my hands. My sister is one, sitting up beside me, but looking back at our father holding the camera, with her hand placed firmly on my back.

Her expression says only one thing...