"Milk and Tea," by Linda Michelle Marquardt, in Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Press, 2014.
We are back for a second helping of Prison Noir. Last week was about a clever concept, skillfully executed. This week is all about heightened language. One advantage of using an e-reader is you can mark interesting passages, and in this story I highlighted too many to review here.
The story begins with a description of a suicide in the prison. Then: Damn! I was jealous.
That's our first indication that the story is in first person. The protagonist is a woman who killed her abusive partner. (And I should say that the abuse is described pretty graphically; this is the most violent tale I have read so far in this book.)
Love of her children keeps her from reaching for death, although I crave it like iced tea on a summer day. See what I mean about heightened language?
Here she deals with the ever-recurring question: why does a woman stay with a bad man?
Apparently, if you're an educated person, this can be held against you, as if there is some Abuse 101 course in college that prepares you to recognize the waring signs. There isn't.
This is a powerful piece of writing.
Ms. Marquardt, like her protagonist, is incarcerated at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Michigan.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Sunday, October 19, 2014
My problem with thematic anthologies is that I usually like the theme better than most of the stories. Take, for instance, this book which has a brilliant plan: invite current or former guests of the American correctional system to write fiction about it. Great idea. And some of the stories are fine.
But so far, most of the ones I have read aren't crime stories.
Yes, I know. Prison implies crime. But if your subject is surviving in a hostile environment, the fact that a felony got you into the place doesn't by itself make it a crime story.
And then there is the whole noir thing. Merely being violent and gloomy does not qualify a piece of fiction as noir. As I have said here, too often, a noir story ideally has three elements: 1) a nobody, who 2) tries to be somebody, and 3) gets stomped on by fate. Why are those the elements of noir? For the same reason a sonnet has fourteen lines.
Having whined sufficiently for one day, let me address this masterful story by Ali F. Sareini, who recently finished a term for second degree homicide.
Ali (the character, not the author, I hope), has been praying to Allah for decades to be released from prison. A weaker spirit might feel a twinge of doubt after all that time, but Ali concludes that his prayers are simply the wrong media to get his message across.
He decides he needs to send a messenger directly to Allah. Fortunately, he is working as a helper in the part of the prison full of elderly and ill inmates. "I reverently called the unit 'the messengers' home.'" So all he has to do is explain clearly the plea he wants delivered and then, immediately, send the astonished courier off to the afterlife.
That's the creepiest motive for murder I have run across in a long time.
(By the way, should I have included a spoiler alert? No, because this isn't the plot of the story: it's the premise.)
So, does this story have crime? Check. Does it have a nobody trying to be somebody? I would say trying to negotiate directly with Allah counts. As for whether the ending counts as noir, telling that would need a spoiler alert.
By the way, this is a story with its theme showing. (The theme is what the story is about, other than the plot and character. Some people like it visible and some don't.) The theme, repeated in several contexts is this: Why do we take care of each other?
Much to ponder in this great story.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Still enjoying this collection of pairing-ups by members of the International Thriller Writers. This week, my first encounter with two authors.
Glen Garber is not your hero for a series of thrillers. He's a builder, not a spy or criminologist. And rather being a ladies' man, he's a widower with a ten-year-old daughter. All he wants to do is bid on a farmhouse renovation when, well, he gets thrown into thriller territory.
Glen Garber had been given his coffee, but was still waiting for an order of chicken nuggets for his daughter, Kelly, when a woman raced into the restaurant screaming that some guy was on fire in the parking lot.
Well, that would get your attention.
Turns out the man on fire was just a distraction to help a bad guy get away from Sean Reilly, who is much more your standard thriller hero: the kind of FBI agent who doesn't let a little thing like a fresh concussion stop him from pursuing a maniac with a biological bomb. And, did I mention he just kidnapped Glen Garber's daughter?
And that turns out to be a very bad idea, for the bad guy...
Sunday, October 5, 2014
The International Thriller Writers came up with a clever idea for an anthology: pair up top writers in stories in which their characters meet each other. I'm enjoying it, so far.
My favorite at this point is the first story, in which Michael Connelly's L.A. cop Harry Bosch travels to Boston to get a DNA sample from a suspect in an old open case. He "meets cute" as they say in Hollywood, with Dennis Lehane's private eye Patrick Kenzie, who suspects the same guy is involved in a current kidnapping.
So why aren't the Boston police leading the search for the missing teenager? Kenzie explains: "She's the wrong color, the wrong caste, and there's enough plausible anecdotal shit swirling around her situation to make anyone question whether she was abducted or just walked off."
Lucky for her there are two men willing to break the rules to find her.