Sunday, February 22, 2009

Guardian Angel and "Child's Play"

1. The short story I chose for this week was “Child’s Play” by Alice Munro. This was a flashback story about two girls at summer camp and something that they did together to another girl who is special. After camp, they never see each other again until one, Charlene, is on her deathbed. Marlene comes to visit and is asked to go see a priest. This story had a lot of character development because there are only three characters. I could see the fear that Marlene had for Verna because Verna was different. At the camp, Charlene joined in on what Marlene told her about Verna and disliked the special girl without ever meeting her. The story is set during World War II and during that time many special people were institutionalized instead of being out in the public so there were a lot of people who were afraid or unsure of people who had special needs. In comparing the Guardian Angel and the short story, they are both conspiracies with a murder. The novel also has theft and a bond scam. I thought the novel’s plot was too convoluted and twisted. I could not understand how it fit together unlike the short story which was simple and straightforward in its presentation.
I think that the novel was too long and the short story could have been made into a novel. The short story could have been developed after the girls leave the campground and follows them throughout their lives until the deathbed ending. It could show how the girls felt about what they did and if it affected their choices in life. Guardian Angel was about 100 pages too long. I think Paretsky could have wrapped everything up sooner and done a better job explaining how everything was connected.
I preferred the short story this week because I felt that the novel was too long. It took forever to get to the end and I didn’t really understand how everything was related.
2. Both of my authors were female this week. Their main characters were female, but in the Guardian Angel the murderers are men and in the short story the murderers are children and girls. This is the first short story I have read by a woman and I think there was more character development then in the previous short stories I read. All the short stories have had a surprise ending so far. They don’t always wrap up everything, but leave some things up to our imaginations. Both female authors did a good job with character development and showing relationships.
3. I did like this story. I did not guess what the girls had done at the camp. I knew someone had died from the beginning of the story, but thought it was going to be either Marlene or Charlene not Verna. I am still unsure why Charlene wanted Marlene to take the letter to the priest. Marlene thought it was so Charlene could confess but the story said that Marlene was to take the letter to the priest even if Charlene had already died. Marlene almost didn’t go see her old friend so I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t. Also, the author did a great job in showing that the girls had an irrational fear of the girl Verna and I think they felt threatened by her and frightened of her and that’s why they killed her.
4. I really did not like The Guardian Angel. I just could not relate to it and did not understand most of the manufacturing problems and how the bank was tied in with the bonds. It was too difficult to keep up with the intrigue. I have read a V.I. Warshawsky mystery before, a long time ago, and did not like that one either. I was hoping that maybe with age I would now appreciate Paretsky’s novels. I don’t know, I may try one more and see if I can find one I like.
5. I have never really thought about how mysteries could be commentaries of society and I am learning to read them in a thoughtful and insightful way. I always thought of mysteries as mysteries not as literature.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"The Monks of the Abbey Victoria"

1. The short story I chose for this week was “The Monks of the Abbey Victoria.” This was a very interesting story and a quick read. It is about a broadcasting company and four men who work there. One of the men is new and the other three conspire against him without his knowledge. There is conspiracy in Black Betty but it is for murder and money, not an item. In “Monks” the item is the lineup of shows that is being stolen and sold to another network. The characters in Black Betty were very real to me and I could feel their pain, unlike the characters in “Monks” which to me felt sort of like a thirty minute show on TV. Both authors did a great job with description and allowing me to build great pictures in my head. Both stories have settings in big cities but most of “Monks” is based inside of the workplace and hotels/restaurants. I really liked both stories this week. I was immersed in both and both tricked me with the ending which I didn’t mind. The short story covered all the ingredients in a good short story and so was enjoyable. The authors made sure all the loose ends were tied up and the end of each story.

2. I think that the difference between the writing of the novel and the short story is based on race. Black Betty is set in the 1960’s in the black world in LA with short forays into the white world where there is suspicion, anger, prejudice, and hatred based on race. “The Monks” is set in Manhattan in the 1960’s in a predominately white world in wealthy Manhattan. It is two completely different worlds. They both are about greed and both have innocent people get hurt because of it. In “Monks” it’s the new guy and in Black Betty it’s Betty’s children and Betty herself for losing her family.

3. I did like this story. It did not have a murder but it was light and quick and had a good ending. Once again it shows how easily a man can be led astray by a woman. If Dale had stayed home or refused to be part of the monks then he couldn’t have been accused of stealing. Of course, his wife was encouraging him to join his friends for poker so that he could make connections. I was very surprised about the ending. I thought one of Dale’s co-workers was going to be having an affair with his wife and at the end he was not going to go out with the girl and go home and find out about his wife. I was way off. I guess because I would never set someone up at work so it didn’t occur to me. I really can’t think of anything that I disliked. The story worked for me.

4. I have an easier time comparing this story to The Maltese Falcon because of the conspiracy and “fall guy” in both. The new man is the fall guy in the short story and Sam gets the boy to be the fall guy in the novel. Also in “Monks” there is a woman who seduces Dale and is his downfall, just as Brigid tries to seduce Sam and get what she wants but doesn’t succeed. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s posts and blogs. It is interesting to see how other people react to the same stories; sometimes there is an opposite reaction to what I experienced. I read lots of mysteries but tend to stay with the same authors. This class has given me two new authors to read. I also have found one short story that I liked. The novels we read definitely reflected the times they were set in and brought a bit of history to life.

5. I am enjoying reading the different kinds of mysteries. I see a lot of similarities between Sam Spade and Easy Rawlins. They are both tough and persistent. Most of the mystery novels I have been reading have the amateur detective solving the case. They usually bungle through and then accidentally solve the case. I like how Sam seemed to think things through and solve the case methodically. I will look for more books with a PI as the main character in the future. Expand my horizons a little.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mulholland Drive

1. I chose "Mulholland Drive" because it was set in California like The Maltese Falcon. The short story really did not allow for much character development. I know the detective did what he did because he wanted money and that he had done it before. I know he also recorded his conversation with the wife because he wanted to use it against her later when he needed more money. I did not learn much about the wife, the dead man or any of the other characters. The plot for the short story was very simple, an accident committed by the detective and then another accident with the detective as the victim. The plot for the novel started with a murder of one of the detectives and the partner trying to solve it because he was one of the suspects. As the story unfolds, we see that Sam is a chauvinist, as are most men of his time, and basically a good guy. There are times in the story when he could have taken the money and gone over to the dark side but never does and stays true to himself.

2. The author of "Mulholland Drive" is a man like Dashiell Hammett. The men in both stories have the women being the main villain or instigator of the crime. The wife in the short story wanted her husband dead because the prenup would not allow her all the money, but death would and in The Maltese Falcon the dame was the one who killed Sam Spade's partner. Her action of killing Miles was to get protection from her own partner. The men from both stories don't show much respect for the women whether that is because they are women or because they are criminals, I don't know.

3. I really did not like many of the aspects of the short story. What I did not like about "Mulholland Drive" is that it used terms with which I was unfamiliar. The author tried to explain what the traffic re-constructionist was doing but it was very technical. I am a visual person and the explanation did not paint a picture in my mind. To say the least it was a little confusing. In addition, the detective is the one who sets up the accident. How clever that he is the one called to reconstruct the scene when he is the one who caused it. The story ends without everything being explained. Does the recorder make it to the police and they find out the wife was involved along with the detective or does she live happily ever after, and does the man save the detective or does he die? Needless to say I was unsatisfied with the ending. The good surprise or irony is that his own accident occurred just the way he said the other accident happened. I did like that twist.

4. While reading The Maltese Falcon I could picture the characters in old black and white movies. If the characters were based on the culture of the times then we can see that smoking in public and drinking was common. Also, the chauvinistic and condescending attitudes of the males in the story is probably an indication of how women were treated at the time. They should be pretty and cooperative. I don't know how much of the character's attitudes are based on the times but I would guess a fair amount. I would not appreciate being treated the way the women in this novel were treated.

5. I think that one thing that I noticed about "Mulholland Drive" was that it did not follow the code of writing mysteries. In "Top 10 Rules for Mystery Writing" number eight says "The detective should not commit the crime." I do believe that with so much uncertainty in life we should be able to count on the detective to be honorable. I know real life is not like that but in my stories and novels I want the hero to be the hero and not also the villain.