Wednesday, April 18, 2012

more Trollope and disappointing meta-mysteries

Over the weekend I finished The Eustace Diamonds, which is just so fun. Very Wilkie Collins, really, albeit with Trollope's distinct style. And of course I was fascinated on a somewhat painful level by the competition between Lucy Morris, the quiet "good girl", and Lizzie Eustace, the exciting adventuress, for Frank Greystock. When Lizzie says to Frank, of Lucy, "Your marriage with that little wizened thing... that prim morsel of feminine propriety who has been clever enough to make you believe that her morality would suffice to make you happy," I said out loud, "Damn, if the Mistress could write like Trollope, that is exactly what she would have said of me." I completely lack "feminine propriety", given my penchant for toilet humor and inability to eat without staining my clothes, but I can be the primmest of prim morsels. Lucy is frighteningly like me, and Lizzie frighteningly like the Mistress (what I know of her), and Frank's belief that he can have the best of both worlds and both women is extremely close to home. Lucy "wins" at the end, but Frank at that point is not a prize worth winning, and her happiness with him is where she and I go our different ways. This little wizened thing is taking her morality and will make someone else happy with it, thank you very much.

Then, after a dreadful day, I wanted something totally mindless and so read Heat Wave, by Richard Castle. I feel a goof just stating that, because Richard Castle doesn't exist. The idea behind this is that in the television show "Castle", Richard Castle is a best-selling mystery author who writes about a police detective named Nikki Heat. So they (the show creators) decided to actually bring out these books. I read trashy mysteries cheerfully, and this is so meta that I was intrigued. (The levels of meta in the afterword, in which the non-existent "Richard Castle" thanks the actors on the show, hurt my brain a little.)

When one of your characters, whether in a book or on television, is a writer, dealing with that writer's writing is always dicey. If you've created a best-selling or universally-acclaimed author, the pressure is huge if you are actually going to quote their writing. (Louise Penny deals well with this by getting permission to use previously-existing poetry, including that of Margaret Atwood, for her poet Ruth Zardo.) A.S. Byatt, of course, does the impossible in Possession and creates two Victorian writers, one of whom wrote in about sixteen different styles, but Byatt is not really like other humans. Most writers, in my experience, struggle when creating writer-characters' writings.

Which is a lengthy preface to the brief statement that I really would have thought they could have gotten someone with a little bit of talent to write Heat Wave. Surely there are more talented writers than this out there, willing to ghostwrite cheesy mysteries? I would do it in a heartbeat (I'm sure I was next on their shortlist). Heat Wave is pretty terrible, though obviously written by a New Yorker - the sense of the city is the only solid thing about it - and it irritated me because the character of Richard Castle is not written (or played; oh, Nathan Fillion) as someone who would write something nearly this crappy. And we're talking about a show which features actual mystery authors playing themselves as Castle's poker buddies (adorable, though the idea of Dennis Lehane living in New York: I scoff); surely someone involved had the literary connections to do better by this concept? Irritating. I could have really used a good trashy mystery yesterday, and got this instead.

No, "good trashy" isn't an oxymoron. There are bad trashy mysteries, and good ones. Same for romance novels. Good trash absorbs your attention and doesn't insult you. To an extent good trash is self-aware; I don't think Faye Kellerman believes she's writing to win the Nobel prize, and she holds tight to the formulas that she knows work. And when her annual book comes out, I spend a comfortable afternoon with it. Nothing wrong with that. I don't learn anything, but I don't get angry either.

Next up: I gather my sherpas (i.e., the dogs) and head up Mt. Phineas Redux. Perhaps I will find the journey much easier going than when I was a teenager. Or perhaps I will resort to cannibalism. Always a danger.

1 comment:

  1. I thought Heat Wave was going to be perfect plane reading. I was thoroughly disappointed. It wasn't even good enough hold my attention when I was on ativan.