Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Books: So Sure of Death, by Dana Stabenow

I've read all but one of Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak mysteries, and the exception is only because that one is out of print and my efforts to get a used copy have failed so far. So now I'm moving on to her Liam Campbell series. I'm reading them entirely out of order; I've read at least two that come chronologically after this one.

I like them all. (Though I prefer Kate.) I like them so much that they turn my mind to the whole "genre fiction"/"literary fiction" conflict. I assume that Dana Stabenow's mysteries are genre fiction, and that I'm therefore supposed to blush a little bit about reading them, and claim that I only take them to the beach. I'm supposed to see genre fiction as the Cheetos of literature, right? Overflavored, oversalted, and with orange powdery stuff that will stay with me and rub off on thoughts generated by finer literature.


Now, there are some genre fiction novels that I do see as the equivalent of...well, not Cheetos, actually; I find Cheetos to be a very fine experience of their type. Maybe the equivalent of those dubious generic imitations of Hostess snack cakes. Vaguely pleasing, nominally fulfilling expectations, but with a disappointing aftertaste that makes you want to go eat something else. (Like a Cheeto.) Vaguely likable people in those stories have cute thoughts about cats or dogs or recipes or home improvement or real estate or expensive shoes, and meanwhile somebody gets murdered. (Oh. Yes. While I'm generalizing my thoughts to fiction in general, the "genre" that I'm talking about here is murder mysteries. We've met, right?)

But Dana Stabenow's mysteries have those moments that make you say, for example, "Oh, my God, he said that to Kate?! He's doomed. Just doomed. Huh? Don't interrupt me, I'm reading!"

And to me, a book that gets you bug-eyed and gawpish about a character, based purely on the character rather than on exploding helicopters or stashes of drugs, can look literary fiction in the face and say, "Feh."

Um. I guess that's about all. I suppose I should really say six or eight words about the actual books, huh? They're set in Alaska, modern day. There's a lot of crime and politics and a moderate amount of sex. Often there's food. There's a wolf. But only half. Read 'em. They're fun.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fiction: Snapshot One

(It's been a long time since I wrote any fiction. So I'm writing snapshots--once-upon-a-time scraps, generally without enough plot to call stories--just to get started again.)

Jane was a seamstress at the theater. Every day, she worked with satin and velvet and silk braid and beads and crystals and horsehair and grosgrain, in a room crowded with headless armless mannequins.

She wasted not. The velvet collar of her going-to-church coat was a scrap from Juliet's burial clothes. Her Christmas scarf was decorated with seventeen extra crystals from Lady Macbeth's gown, the one stained with the old man's blood. Her bedtime robe was the coat, green and gold with an amethyst silk lining, that Petruchio wore to tell the audience about killing his wife with kindness. No one noticed when she folded it and carried it home on closing night.

This year, a director with a minimalist vision arrived to create Romeo and Juliet. He directed Jane to dress the cast in twentieth-century shapes, every character in the same wheat-colored rough-woven linen--he'd brought a swatch. Jane protested; if he wanted soothing natural colors, what about cream-colored satin, or eggshell silk chiffon with georgette facings? For modern shapes, what about Edwardian gowns with short trains? And swallowtail coats?

But she lost, and she sewed the neat modern garments, and she swept the hateful burlap-like scraps out of her workroom the moment that the rack of costumes was rolled away. And for the very first time she gave away her tickets for opening night.

But she couldn't stay home and make cocoa in Petruchio's coat when everyone she knew was out in the night-time. So she put on a mock-Chanel suit that she'd pieced from the scraps from Hamlet's funeral garments, swept a scarf made from the rejected cream satin around her shoulders, and went to the movies. Not the new metroplex with fourteen screens, but the old theater with the neon front and the red velvet seats. She bought a small popcorn and an Italian soda with cream, and sat down to wait for Cary Grant.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Books: To Love and Be Wise (and more Josephine Tey)

I just finished Josephine Tey's To Love and be Wise, from 1951. (Hmm. Why do I keep thinking that her books are just a little bit older?)

I was going to go on to say, "This finishes my re-reading of all of Josephine Tey's books..." But then I went Googling to find a list, and found three books that I've never read: The Expensive Halo, Kif, and The Privateer. It appears that I can say that I have finished re-reading all of the Tey mysteries--these appear to be more in the category of odds and ends. I'll be reading them all the same. (Oh, and there's also something called Claverhouse. And two plays. Hmm.)

So. This finishes my re-reading of all of Josephine Tey's mysteries, a goal that I started in 2013. The full list, in roughly the order that I (re)read them, is:

The Franchise Affair
Brat Farrar
A Shilling for Candles
The Daughter of Time
The Singing Sands
Miss Pym Disposes
The Man in the Queue
To Love and be Wise

I'm very fond of these books. They give me the pleasure of a classic "cozy", but I find them more challenging and less predictable. They break the nice tidy cycle of a murder mystery that I was describing in my last book-related post--and come to think of it, they don't always have a murder. And I want to meet the characters; they're so very likable, in a way that's sensible and quirky and dry all at once.

In the new introduction to the new printing of all of these books, Robert Barnard says, "Her readers...give to their favorite Tey novel what they once gave to their favorite books of childhood, to The Wind in the Willows, Little Women, or whatever: unconditional enthusiasm." Yes. Exactly. I think that mine is The Franchise Affair, though that may just be because I read it the longest ago, so my craving is the strongest.


That seems to be all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.