Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How Mattering More Than What

Okay, on for review of the first days' real reading material - Lisa Lutz's latest, a non-Spellman files joint effort at a comic mystery.  It's amazing that I've been writing this blog so long that I'm getting up to authors' second new books since I started... but in this case, that's only because I posted about the book a while after I read it, so I don't know if it's time to start waxing nostalgic :) Anyway, I think we were all ready for the Spellman Files to end even before the last one, so we were certainly happy that this latest is entirely independent of Izzie and her gang (though there's Spellman #5 out next year, which I shall certainly be reading, don't get me wrong :)) But other than being non-Spellman, I don't know that there was much to recommend this project.  It was an innovative idea, (or not hugely overdone anyway): Lisa Lutz and an ex-bf writer friend of hers would write alternate chapters, not discussing the plot beforehand.  Let the story unfold how it would, with the only guidance that it be a whodunit, with some resolution at the end.  I don't have any objections to the idea, but the descriptions made the book sound... well kind of horror-meets-kitsch, which just wasn't something that appealed to me all that much.  And it's not like I adore Lisa Lutz all that much... I mostly read her books for the romance, though the comedy is none too bad, of course.

But of course, it wasn't like I wasn't going to read it... because, of course, I don't exactly have to expend much to put it on reserve at the library.  And in this case, because my wonderful cousin Sarah Sp (see you really should read my blog ;)) is boycotting LL over her last book, the library was kind of my only avenue - which was just fine, because I put it on reserve months ago and got it immediately upon publication.  ANYWAY... I'm sure you want to hear about the book already.  The first thing I realized upon starting (just the intro, not even the book) was that the format was a big part, if not the whole point, of the book.  Every other chapter belongs to either Dave or Lisa and in between, we get notes discussing the previous chapter between the two authors.  So besides the unfolding mystery for Paul and Lacey, we get the story of how this book got written.  Or not exactly that, more like a running commentary on all that was lacking in the previous chapter.  And there are plenty of within-the-text jibes back and forth too.  So that the characters sometimes voice concerns about the narrative or make a slightly out of place comment, clearly the message of the current writer to his/her counterpart.  Whatever, the point is, it's funny.  And we never forget just what is really going on in the book.

The mystery itself... well don't take it too seriously, that's for sure.  First of all, my assumption is that most mystery writers have a pretty good idea of unfolding events from the beginning.  I would think it's fairly difficult to produce a well-crafted whodunit, one with a really satisfying ending, without knowing where every lead is headed.  But in this case, not only did the format make advance planning impossible, the authors didn't even try, forgoing narrative integrity for the chance to get the book at on Lisa/Dave's chosen track.  But it doesn't really matter, it's not like this book was meant as a serious mystery novel anyway.  And the back-and-forth, no-respect-for-reality bonanza of dead bodies and petty criminals makes that very clear.  It also makes the book funny, at least in its own way.  And I'll take funny over a good mystery any day.

I don't know why I'm giving this book such serious attention.  It's really very simple. The book itself is okay funny when it's read as a farce, which I think is definitely as intended (I don't even think it's in the mystery section of the library). The far more compelling narrative is that between the two authors, as played out somewhat in their notes, and more within the main chapters.  I'm pretty sure their petty jibes and textual battles are at least somewhat fictionalized, but I'm okay with that.  They're still funny.  Bottom line, I think Lisa Lutz sees herself more as a comic than as anything else, and I don't think anything in this book proves her wrong.

Verdict: 3.5/5

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