03 February, 2007

Books, Books, Books

OK, as I mentioned in one of my last posts, I've been reading a lot. Specifically, I've read a lot of the Alphabet Mystery Series by novelist Sue Grafton. One of the greatest things I love about the Kinsey Millhone mysteries is that her character virtually grows out of the page. I was going to say that it leaps off the page but that's a little cliché, don't ya think? Anyway, her books aren't fast paced at all. In fact, one might say that they can, at times, be painfully slow in plot development. But one doesn't read Sue Grafton's novels for plot; one reads them for the sheer joy and passion of reading. The characters in her novels are so well-formed, three-dimensional, that it makes me feel as though I could literally reach into the book and touch them. Not to mention, she has a great insight into the human psyche. Oh, and did I mention that I could totally see my friend, Stacey, as heroine Kinsey Millhone?

I just finished reading Patricia Cornwell's Cause of Death. Like Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell is a novelist writing a series of mysteries/thrillers, who has as her protagonist a female heroine, one Dr. Kay Scarpetta (who also is an attorney). Dr. Scarpetta is an doctor/attorney who serves as Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia. She has a lesbian niece, Lucy, who is an FBI agent. Along with Lucy, there's a gruff NYC-styled cop who's now captain somewhere in Virginia, and an FBI SAC who does "profiling." These four main characters form the basis of most of Cornwell's novels and, like Grafton, they're created in three-dimensional form through words on the page.

What I really love about Cornwell's books is the attention to technical detail and procedural detail, both medical and legal. I marked four passages in this book that gave me pause:
He stared at Edding's face and his own got sad. "It's like when kids end up in here or that basketball player who dropped dead in the gym the other week." He looked at me. "Does it ever get to you?"
"I can't let it get to me because they need me to do a good job for them," I said as I made notes.
"What about when you're done?" He glanced up.
"We're never done, Danny," I said. "Our hearts will stay broken for the rest of our lives, and we will never be done with the people who pass through here."
"Because we can't forget them." He lined a bucket with a viscera bag and put it near me on the floor. "At least I can't."
"If we forget them, then something is wrong with us," I said.
This was an exchange between Dr. Scarpetta and one of a morgue assistant during an autopsy, and the sentiment expressed here, while particular to the people who pass before them on the autopsy table, for me at least, is much broader than that. One of the problems that I've had, especially as it relates to my depression, is that (in the same year of my accident) I lost three people who were very dear to me, within as many months. That's an average of one person per month. My grandmother (who raised me served, essentially, as surrogate mother to me) and my friends Tanya and Ross (in that order) all departed from corporeal existence within a temporal span of less than 90 days.

It's hard enough losing one person, but three, within such a short period of time? Not to mention that, at the time, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center had only recently occurred, so there was more loss there. It's a lot to handle, especially when you're already depressed, and doped up on painkillers that are making the depression even worse. So unlike Scarpetta, though, the loss of these individuals has gotten to me, and I've been stuck ever since. I think I'm finally beginning to move on now, though, as I've realized that I can move on and still keep them alive in my memory, without forgetting them.

Next, we have this little gem:
She paused, then added with a sigh, "You know, at first I was pissed when the [FBI] Academy decided to send me back to UVA for a month. But it may end up being a relief. I can work in the lab, ride my bike and job around the campus like a normal person."
Lucy was not a normal person, nor would she ever be. I had decided that in many sad ways, individuals with IQs as high as hers are as different from others as are the mentally impaired. ...
I happen to have an IQ that is probably higher than most in the country. People always assume that because I'm intelligent, I should be able to do certain things or act in a certain way or now about certain things. But in reality, there are many aspects of humanity that are foreign to me, so I relate very strongly to this passage. Most times, human behavior is a huge enigma to me, as smart as I am. But I've never pretended to know everything about everything. In fact, if one were to ask me, I would say that I really don't know all that much, and what little I do know is limited to certain key areas, such as technology, the law, etc.

Next up is another dialogue between Dr. Scarpetta and her niece, Lucy:
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm not sure I know what to say except that the problem lies with them and not with the two of you."
"I don't know what she's going to do. It's bad enough that we have to worry about the Bureau finding out."
"You have to be strong and true to who you are."
"Whoever that is. Some days I don't know." She got more upset. "I hate this. It's so hard. It's so unfair." She leaned her head against my shoulder. "Why couldn't I have been like you? Why couldn't it have been easy?"
"I'm not sure you want to be like me," I said. "And my life certainly isn't easy, and almost nothing that matters is easy. You and Janet can work things out if you are committed to do so. And if you truly love each other."
In this passage, Lucy's girlfriend had just come out to her parents, who, suffice it to say, weren't very supportive. But Lucy's aunt, the good Dr. Kay Scarpetta, is more than supportive. My grandmother, after getting over the initial shock, was extremely supportive of me. I remember one time when she got very upset because I wrote a letter to the editors of our local newspaper about an issue of importance to us LGBT people: inclusion of "sexual orientation" in the county's soon-to-be-enacted human rights law, and my name and town were published. She became quite upset with me for allowing my name to be published, and after a very short period of time, I learned that the reason for her being so upset was that she worried that some "knucklehead" (as she stated) would find out where I lived, come to the house, and beat me up as I was walking out the front door, or throw rocks through the windows, or some other harm would come to me. After a long talk, she realized the importance of, and the strength of my conviction for, this law, and a few days later asked to accompany me to a public hearing so that she could testify in favor of passage of the law affording protection to those based on "sexual orientation." Tears come to my eyes every time I think about this.

Additionally, Scarpetta's statement that "nothing that matters [in life] is easy" is something that I have mixed feelings about. I know that in general, in terms of politics and society and what not, change requires lots of work, and nothing comes easy. But in terms of my life, I think that one of the problems I'm having now is that before my accident, I didn't encounter too many problems in life. Sure, there were difficulties, but things always had a way of working themselves out to a point that I could get along with. But now, it just seems that every little thing is such a tremendous struggle. I'm not sure whether things have actually changed in such a fashion or if it's just my perception (although I suspect it's probably a bit of both), but very little has worked out in my favor as of late.

Finally, here's something that my friend Christopher can relate to (as can anyone else who's been on some sort of psychiatric medication, aka crazy meds):
"Which medication? Your adrenergic blocker or the finasteride? And no, I didn't know."
"Both."
"Now why would you do anything that foolish?"
"Because when I'm on it nothing works right," he blurted out. "I quite taking it when I started dating Molly. Then I started again around Thanksgiving after I had a checkup and my blood pressure was really up there and my prostate was getting bad again. It scared me."
"No woman is worth dying for," I said. "And what this is all about is depression, which you're a perfect candidate for, by the way."
"Yeah, it's depressing when you can't do it. You don't understand."
"Of course I understand. It's depressing when your body fails you, when you get older and have other stressors in your life like change. And you've had a lot of change in the past few years."
"No, what's depressing," he said, and his voice was getting louder, "is when you can't get it up. And then sometimes you get it up and it won't go down. And you can't pee when you feel like you got to go, and other times you go when you don't feel like it. And then there's the whole problem of not being in the mood when you got a girlfriend almost young enough to be your daughter." He was glaring at me, veins standing out in his neck. "Yeah, I'm depressed. You're fucking right I am."
That paragraph about getting older and having other stressors in your life and having been through a lot the past few years and suffering from depression as a result therefrom pretty much describes me. It's so odd how I can relate to characters in a book better than most people I meet on the street.

As for what's next, I'm currently reading Chill Factor, by Sandra Brown.