Re: RARA-AVIS: fantasy worlds

Date: 24 Aug 2001


Re your comments below, it's not absolutely clear to me whether you actually believe what you're saying, or you're just being playful and bantering and I'm taking my self too seriously to see it.

If your comments are meant seriously (in which case they come uncomfortably close to being a "flame," though I suppose I may not be objective enough to make that judgment), and you really do believe I'm some kind of gender bigot, I'll try to respond:

> Gee, do you have a visceral reaction to female
> doctors and lawyers too . . .

As it happens, my personal physician is a woman. She also (lest I be accused of xenophobia as well as gender bigotry) is foreign-born. My wife and I didn't choose her for either of these reasons. She just happens to be a great doctor.

Before I moved to the Midwest, my doctor in California was also a woman and (to forestall any accusations of racial bigotry) African-American. Again, I didn't choose her for either of these reasons. She just happened to be an excellent practitioner of a specialty I needed at that time.

I have no idea what their political opinions are, and it makes no difference to me, since I'm not hiring them as political commentators, but as medical practitioners.

Over the years I have also consulted, or worked with, woman lawyers.

If I ever had need of a private detective, I wouldn't pick one on the basis of gender, or race, or ethnic background, or religious belief, but on the basis of professional competence.

I specifically drew a line between real-life and the
"fantasy world" of the traditional PI figure. I'm aware of the fact that there are real-life female PIs.
 In fact there have been women PIs for almost as long as the profession has existed. Allan Pinkerton regarded a female undercover specialist who worked for him for over twenty years as one of his most effective operatives. This historical figure ( whose name escapes me at the moment) became the model for Bill Pronzini's Sabina Carpenter character in a series of historical mysteries he writes.

I was talking about the traditional "fantasy figure" PI, and all I did was maintain that, since that figure is traditionally male, and, moreover, is traditionally male because the traditional fantasy was created predominantly by males for a predominantly male audience, a note of dissonance ensues when that figure becomes female.

If that's gender bigotry, so be it.
> only the ones with strident offensive left-wing
> agendas?

The "strident, left-wing agenda" comment referred specifically to the works of Sara Paretsky. Let me make my self clear. While I'm not totally indifferent to the political opinions of novelists, those opinions are less important to me than the ability to write a story that I enjoy reading. If the political commentary becomes the main end of the novelist, then it becomes offensive because it detracts from the novel, whether or not I happen to agree with those opinions.

One of the things I disliked about avowed John Bircher Elizabeth Linnington (aside from the fact that she wrote police procedurals without knowing anything about police procedure), was that all too often, her books became thinly disguised propaganda for her political opinions, getting in the way of her story.

By contrast, this was rarely a problem readers encountered with Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, both avowed Marxists. Their opinions were evident, but not so obtrusive that they got in the way of the story.

Ms. Paretsky, in my view, has created a character who exists more to push the author's agenda than to move the action of the stories she appears in. Others may disagree. If they enjoy her books, more power to them. I don't, quite apart from V.I. Warshawski's being a woman ( except insofar as her being a woman is an integral part of the author's agenda).
> Since when does admitting that something is a
> prejudice make it a less
> offensive statement? How about if I say: "I admit I
> have a prejudice
> against blacks (gays, Hispanics, disabled people)
> appearing in PI novels.
> The genre is based on a white (straight, Anglo,
> non-disabled) fantasy and
> this new (meaning introduced since 1940, apparently)
> breed of PI may give me
> reading pleasure but just doesn't fell *right* to
> me, somehow, on a visceral
> level."

I think it was very clear that I didn't mean
"prejudice" in that sense.

In the first place, I specifically excluded characters, like Joe Gores's Giselle Marc (based on real-life PI Ronile Lahti, one of Gores's co-workers during his PI days), who appear in novels that are
*not* embracing the traditional PI fantasy.

Characters like Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone, Maxine O'Callaghan's Delilah West, and Sara Paretsky's VI Warshwski are all specifically designed to fit into the traditional "fantasy PI" paradigm (i.e. 30-ish unmarried ex-cops [or offspring of cops], 1st person narrators, operating one-person businesses, in large US cities, tough, principled, etc., etc.) except in one important respect: they are women. This introduces a note of dissonance. In fact, I would argue that the introduction of this note of dissonance is deliberate.

Now if you really think that recognizing this note of dissonance, and having to readjust to it, makes me a gender bigot than nothing I can say will convince you otherwise, but if I've managed to introduce at least a spark of doubt about my unraised consciousness, let me draw a few analogies that might illustrate what I was trying to say.

Rock-n-roll and classic symphonies are two different kinds of music. One might enjoy both, but will come to each with differing expectations. If one hears a symphonic composition rearranged as a rock tune, or a rock song rearranged for symphonic performance, the music will not meet those expectations. The resulting performances may be very enjoyable, but the listener is going to have to readjust his/her expectations in order to enjoy them.

Novels are almost always written in the past tense. Novels like Turow's *Presumed Innocent* or Winslow's
*Calif. Fire & Life*, written in the present tense, may be enjoyable, but the reader is going to have to readjust his/her expectations in order to enjoy them.

Romance stories and confession stories are almost always written from the point of view of a female character. If one writes a romance or confession from the male POV, it may be very enjoyable, but the reader is going to have to readjust his/her expectations in order to enjoy it.

I don't want to belabor this. If you still choose to believe that I'm an intolerant bigot, I can say no more to defend myself from that charge. Believe of me what you will. *Say* of me what you will.

But in the interests of keeping Rara-Avis a collegial forum, believe them and say them in private, out of my hearing.


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