Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Politics, Good Versus Evil, and Our Three Directions: Poetry, Mystery, Fine Press

Recently there have been several good articles on whether thrillers qualify as mysteries -- and, not unexpectedly, they tend to answer "yes -- but." This is followed by a claim that the thriller merits its own genre label, and its own attention.

I disagree.

For me, the satisfaction of a good mystery lies in two accomplishments of the author: that clues or puzzle pieces are laid out in such a way that if I work really hard (or loosen the bonds of reason to explore imagination at its edges), I can ferret out the solution at least a page or two before the equally dedicated sleuth figure does so; and second, that the character who has most seized my attention has, to some degree, control of life's choices.

For me, a thriller is a book that denies the second of these. Hence, Scott Smith's THE RUINS is a thriller, not a mystery, despite the scatter of hints. My conclusion: A thriller is not an edgy sort of mystery. (Do you agree?)

I've just finished reading Pat Barker's 2003 novel DOUBLE VISION. Entirely separate from her noted Regeneration trilogy, it probes with firm strong fingers at the bruises of violence and war in our lives. If I see it as a mystery -- which the presence of deliberately laid trails of clues, suspense, and characters capable and willing to fight against the dark can readily justify -- then I accept the breath-taking absorption of my last few hours of reading as entirely merited.

Moreover, Barker's nearly domestic setting parallels my own: listening to "war and rumors of war," seeing photos of bombed and homeless mothers and children in "living color" on the front pages of the New York Times, knowing the cards dealt have awarded me an almost obscenely peaceful life compared to what is happening an airplane's flight away. "Clean water for tea" is the last line of a poem I wrote a few weeks ago, calling it "Prayer from Peace" and hoping that one reader in five might notice the "from" rather than "for."

I don't expect to leave the fragile safety of Vermont to take arms against a sea of troubles. So somehow, I need to take what stands I can, here and now.

Which finally takes me to the point of the next few blog entries, as I expect to wrestle with:

1. Politics and small presses: Greg Joly, Bob Arnold.
2. Politics and poetry: Martín Espada, Galway Kinnell.
3. Politics and mystery: Sarah Stewart Taylor and Matt Dunne, and Archer Mayor.

In each of these, there's an invitation to thought, and a possibility of action. Autumn events on the calendar for Kingdom Books promise startling opportunities. I hope you'll share a comment as the coming entries unfold.

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