RARA-AVIS: Re: Name Your Poison

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 30 Aug 2006

Dave wrote:

> Btw. A very entertaining pure pulp book that I just finished is The
> Last Quarry by Max Allan Collins. Touches on no universal truths,
> but I still enjoyed this book immensely

I enjoyed it too, but mostly because I believed in those characters. And that's what I meant about universal "truths."

When I was blathering on previously about universal truths, I wasn't talking about deep insights into the cosmos or anything -- just those sort of common (ie: universal) things we all do and say or think, that sort of self-recognition or empathy that good writing can do, that moment when you think, "Gosh, that's what I'd do!" or "Gee, how would I get out of that?" or "Boy, that guy's a creep" or "Yeah, I know a guy like that" or whatever.

That's the sort of "truthiness" I meant.

Whether you're reading hard-boiled or sci-fi or whatever, characters have to behave in a way that is true, not just to the internal logic of their own world but, transposed, to ours.

The characters in THE LAST QUARRY do that, more or less (given that they're naturally a little larger than life -- Hey, it's FICTION!).

Which goes back to what I was saying about how all fiction asks us to suspend disbelief somewhere along the line, and we're all willing to suspend it in different areas, depending on our genre preferences. For me, it's human behaviour. If the characters don't act in the ways people like them would act, I'm pulled out of the story. And anything that pulls me out of the story is bad -- too many, and I may never go back.

Which is why I view most cozies and serial killer novels with such disdain -- the murders are too often committed for artificial-feeling or hard-to-swallow reasons ("he's crazy" is a lazy writer's cop-out, IMHO). Chandler praised Hammett for giving murder back to those who commit it for a reason, and I think that's part of the HB genre's appeal for me.

But that very artificiality, that once-removed motive for murder, may be another person's favourite thing about cozies or serial killer books -- it allows them to get on with the puzzle aspect or the chase part of the story (or, in the case of narrated-by-the-serial-killer books, the violence-as-porn bits that make certain readers all tingly in their naughty bits).

It's just a different area where they choose to suspend their disbelief.

And Kerry wrote:

> Kevin might have argued that it is
> unreal to have people threaten their associates without some weapon at
> hand. Or otherwise.

Nope. Not me. If the writer's done his job, I can believe almost anything.

What I would object to would be a character acting completely out of character and threatening an associate with a baseball bat. That would be a matter of the writer failing to do their job.

And all the lame bleating about "But it happened in real life" doesn't impress me. To satisfy, fiction has to make some sort of sense; real life doesn't. Citing "real life" to justify literary weaknesses and implausibilities just doesn't cut it -- it's often the last straw of writers who don't know how to craft believable characters.

Hell, look at Stephen King. Do I believe in vampires and werewolves and UFOs and that burying dead kids in an ancient Indian burial ground will bring them back to life?


But I believe (trust) his characters, so I'm more likely to believe the things that happen to them -- at least while I'm in that fictional world. The scenes of domestic life at the beginning of PET SEMETARY (the kids' squabbling over cereal at breakfast, the low- level bickering, etc.) may be some of the most "true" fiction I've ever read. So I was already hooked when the weird shit started happening.

Yet who would accuse King of writing "realistic" novels?

Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.thrillingdetective.com

RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/
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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 30 Aug 2006 EDT