Re: RARA-AVIS: The undependable narrator

From: Dave Zeltserman (
Date: 17 Aug 2006

> But everyone's being too theoretical here. Let's talk specifics. A
> good example of an unreliable narrator is Dave's Fast Lane. We come
> realize fairly early on that the narrator is withholding and/or
> certain information, wilfully lying to the reader. I think the key
> phrase here is "we come to realize" -- Dave, the author, has played
> fair. The reader (at least this reader, who isn't very concerned
> figuring out whodunnit early, but does require that whodunnit could
> figured out and makes sense) starts to recognize there are cracks and
> omissions, that the narrator's story doesn't quite hold up, that
> something is being hidden, long before the narrator admits it.

Mark, thanks for the kind words. I tried hard not to cheat with it, keeping Lane's behavior and thought processes and self-delusions consistent throughout the book as he tries hard to convince both the reader and himself that he's the next Lew Archer--which he has good reason for needing to do. What made it fun for me is that Lane follows a lot of the standard hardboiled PI tropes that most readers of the genre except as normal behavior, but in his case you can see it as opening cracks to a deeply psychotic individual. Early on after being hired to find a runaway girl, Lane beats the hell out of the father when he discovers the man has been sexually abusing his daughter. Most hardboiled PI readers gloss over this and accept this behavior by a PI as normal, maybe even desired, but in this case if the reader's paying attention he'll see it as indicates something entirely different. Even still, I've talked to hardboiled PI readers who didn't catch onto Lane until Lane finally reveals it himself halfway through the book. One national book reviewer quit right before that point and wrote me a "helpful" letter telling me while he liked the writing, I need to learn how to make my PI more likeable, that Lane's behavior was beginning to make him uncomfortable. Damn. The book succeeded, but the reviewer never realized it. Anyway, the only place where I might've cheated with this one was the title--Fast Lane gives the impression that the book is the first of a hardboiled PI series, kind of like "Hard Rain".

Juri--your question, as long as you're playing fiar and the detective's behavior is consistent and makes sense, it's fine.


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