Archive for the ‘February, 2012’ Category

Underused Plot Possibilities?

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

The other night at dinner FD and Mr. FD were talking about novels about cooking/food.  We really couldn’t come up with that many.  Sure, there are plenty of great individual scenes of cooking or eating in novels, but few are the novels that are specifically about food and cooking, with chefs as protagonists, or great gourmands or gourmets as romantic hero or evil villain.  And those book that did come to mind were mostly not by US authors.  There’s Like Water for Chocolate, and The Debt to Pleasure, and Hunger. But in the US?  Mr. FD reminded FD that Tony Bourdain has written novels with a lot of food and cooking — but also a lot of violence and crime, which end up as the main plot points.  And there are a number of mystery series with caterers or restaurant reviewers as protagonists.  Most of which are pretty bad, usually “cosy” in style and often interrupted by recipes that are really don’t move one toward the kitchen.  Its a shame, really, since the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe novels provide a real model of how to write about food in a way that makes readers look forward to their next meal.

Similarly, FD couldn’t think of a novel in which Leap Year Day was a plot point.   But a quick on-line search came up with a site that lists a few, including some from the nineteenth century (you may remember that the Pirates of Penzance turns on a Leap Year birthday).  Many of these books are for children, who may find the concept of Leap Year Day more interesting than adults, who may not be able to remember when the ideas of time and dates were still capable of causing wonder.

There are probably many other plot foci that aren’t being used very often, even as there are also plot lines that are used over and over again.

Politics and Mysteries

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

FD has been feeling even more down than usual about politics in the US.  There seems to be an increasing war against women and a more open (among certain segments of the right) bias against homosexuality.  But FD, like a lot of people, spends more time with entertainment than with politics, and a LOT of time reading mysteries.

Perhaps, though, reading mysteries can be a way to think about politics. FD remembers an early exposure to gay culture that happened by accident — FD checked out one of Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter novels from the local public library.  There’s a lot of information online about Hansen and his novels (the first Brandstetter was published in 1970) that gently invited heterosexual readers to expand their minds.  See, for example, this tribute to Hansen by fellow mystery writers. Hansen was not the first, and certainly not the last, writer to choose a gay protagonist and today many mystery writers also include gay characters who are not the main protagonist, because, after all, if one is building a realistic world, gays are going to have to be a part of it. Lesbian protagonists came a little later, as described by Lori Lake in this 2006 essay. There are many gay and lesbian novels being written today, one can find hundreds in a simple Amazon search.  The chance the average reader will find some at the local library is good, and so without even searching them out readers will get a more inclusive look at US culture.  FD suspects that just as gay characters in television shows and movies have helped to change attitudes, so do the gay characters in mystery novels.

Lots of writers have used mystery novels to make direct or indirect protests against the gender inequality in US culture; FD is particularly impressed by Sara Paretsky, whose blog and website aren’t updated too often, but is worth a look, and whose novels will appeal to any reader of mysteries.  Paretsky’s recent novel, Breakdown, includes an examination of right-wing media and its effects on US culture, within a novel that begins with teenage girls who are fanatic about a series of vampire novels.  Paretsky’s ability to fold so much of current cultural activity into a mystery novel is one reason for her popularity.  And unlike the uncertainties of real life, in a mystery novel the reader can usually hope that the good guys will win.

FD will keep worrying about the political situation, and keep reading mysteries, too.