Sunday, August 3, 2008

Landscapes and Degrees of Separation

Earlier it was George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and Richard Price, qv as the more scholarly indexes would say, quod vide. Tonight it becomes Louise Erdrich, Ruth Rendell, and flip a coin between Margaret Atwood (esp. Cat's Eye) and anything by Alice Munro. This splendid half dozen is part of the equation, the part being the authorial lens for looking at character. The other part of the equation is landscape, by which I mean not only the setting but the inherent mood or tone of the setting. Although four of the six I mention are writing about situations where crime or the immediate threat of crime is a constant threat, even to the point of being a genre promise, each of the six write about situations in which a larger crime lurks in potent display, the crime of emotional violence that more or less goes with the lunch.

There is no doubt in my mind that each of the six has brought writing about crime into literature that not only goes beyond mere entertainment, it becomes writing that closely defines through event and locale and attitude the effects of crime on individuals. This is important to us now in 2008 when the traces in our own political landscape reek of various types of torture and humiliation; it is also important as a looking glass into historical eras when, in effect, only certain types and classes of society were thought to have the capacity to be humiliated.

This is a reminder to revisit Balzac and Eugenie Grandet. It is also a reminder to revisit Gaylord Dold, the bard of Topeka, Kansas, a mystery writer virtually unknown to all but a few who look at the confluence of character and landscape as surpassing plot, having a fate-driven inertia that pulls us, yanks us into story, keeps us there.

This is official notice as well that much as I enjoy Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, I have over indulged on the Georg Pelecanos The Turnaround to the point where I will have to review it this week and get to the O'Brien for next week's column (which is going to be difficult because of Philip Pullman and the three-volume set of His Dark Mystery, pulsing away on my desk. When we speak about interconnectedness on a global scale, we're looking at a figure of about 5 or 6, so I guess it shouldn't be too surprising, having just found out about Philip Pullman from Michael Chabon to have noticed him on the link list of mapelba, a blogger I check in on.

And since I was seriously thinking about Christopher Hitchens' splendid book on George Orwell for a bi-weekly Golden Oldie review, what are the chances that someone from my home town would call to see if I'd be interested in being invited to a private session at a posh conservative venue here, where one of the locals had paid big bucks to fly Hitchens in for the evening last night? This being what it is, the chances were good, and so, when Q and A time came around and the conservatives were getting het up about whether we should bomb Iran or China, I was able to get the mike and ask Hitchens if he thought Orwell was still relevant today and if so why and how. Half an hour later, Hitchens, by all accounts a splendid speaker, apologized for taking so long to answer the question, then hoped his answer conveyed a measure of his regard for Orwell. Which occasioned another question: Do you in your work carry Orwell's mantle forth? Which provoked the answer, Come have a glass of wine with me.

1 comment:

x said...

He was lucky to have that glass of wine.