Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Field of Darkness

I passed through most of today's surreal waiting time reading my writer's-group aquaintance Cornelia Read's debut novel, A Field of Darkness. I don't read mysteries, and I'm a terrible reader, too -- whipping through books by skipping every third word, or more. But with this one, I couldn't do that -- I wanted to read every word, partly because Cornelia wrote it, but also because of her vivid imagery and fully realized characters. So many tiny, telling details were packed into this book, and I didn't want to miss any of them. It was splendid.

If I had to complain about something, it would be the profanity, simply because I'm not used to reading any at all. As these things go, it's mild; it doesn't nearly approach the lofty heights (so to speak) of the obscenity-laden dialog of, say, The Sopranos or Deadwood, for which I am very grateful. It was I think an appropriate level of profanity, given the ages, backgrounds, and professions of the characters, but it still tripped me up from time to time because I live with three children and do my very best never to swear myself. Then I remember, hazily, my own days pre-offspring, and the fact that I worked with all guys in software development, and the fact that if anyone transcribed some of our design meetings, the word used with the most frequency would probably be one that starts with "f." In other words: it should be impossible to offend my ears, but apparently, it's not. How odd.

At any rate, A Field of Darkness was the perfect life preserver for a day like today. I could cast myself into the pages and not fret about my two boys, or just pretend that nothing significant had happened today -- certainly nothing as significant as all the stuff that was raining down on Maddie Dare. It helped me enormously to have a book that was so engrossing, so tightly plotted and paced exactly right. And I love that Cornelia didn't pull any mystery-writer crap and withold clues from the reader: if you pay close attention, you'll figure out what's going on before Maddie does -- but given Maddie's propensity for panic, vomiting, and stupidly walking into rooms containing recently murdered people, I suppose that's not saying much. But it is! Because you can't help liking Maddie, even while you want to shake her, but maybe just a little, because she's just as conflicted as you are. Well, as I am, anyway. Maddie's a familiar, jangly knot of resentment and appreciation and confusion, and What am I doing with my life, anyway?

But the observation that hit me the hardest was Maddie's admission, during what is supposed to be a solemn moment:
I have no talent for quiet meditation, have never gained an insight on the nature of the universe while having to duck my head in silence for anything. My mind just wanders and jumps.
I know that Maddie's a fictional character and all, but the connection I felt there was intense: I thought it was just me! I despise my lack of mental discipline and my inability to focus. I keep hoping if I practice I can get better at it, but I don't even have the discipline to practice.

And then I realize, I've survived nearly 43 years without this ability, how crucial can it be? Maybe I'll figure it out in my remaining time, however long that is, but if I don't I'm going to try not to sweat it.

See, that's what a really great book can do: help you to know yourself a little better. Maybe I should read more mysteries.

1 comment:

Cornelia Read said...

Hi there Joan,

Again, I am so glad that you liked it. I don't swear nearly as much in real life anymore (MOST days), but boy, at 25......

And as for the wandering brain during reverence moments, that's from going to Quaker meetings with my mom. She kept saying you stop thinking about the grocery list after a couple of times, but it never quite worked for me!