27 February, 2007

I just discovered Kathy Reichs

As I've been blogging about lately, one of the things that I've been doing to help with my depression is to read. I guess one of the things that this does for me is keep my mind off a lot of the stressors that are in my life right now. Additionally, it helps keep my mind focused, and as I've blogged about, I find a lot of things in books to be applicable to or reflective of my life, or more generally, there are passages that "speak" to me. Two of the authors that I've been reading a lot lately have been Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell. Because the selection of books that I have not yet read by these female authors has dwindled, I recently asked a librarian if she could recommend something else to me along the same genre/style of the two woman powerauthors, and she recommend Kathy Reichs. I picked out Death du Jour and within a few pages, I was in love.

Reichs, like Cornwell, is employed in the forensics field. In addition to being an author of great caliber, she's a forensic anthropologist in North Carolina and Quebec. Additionally, like Grafton and Cornwell, her characters are well-formed, three dimensional representations of individuals that you could swear you've known about for quite some time. Take, for instance, the following passages:

"Do you have a religion, Dr. Brennan?"
"I was raised Roman Catholic, but currently I don't belong to a
church."
The ghostly eyes looked into mine.
"Do you believe in God?"
"Dr. Jeannotte, there are some days I don't believe in tomorrow
morning."

One of the things that I haven't really talked about is my spiritual affiliation. Like the main character in the novel, I was raised Roman Catholic, but don't currently have a religious affiliation; I consider myself spiritual. And like Dr. Bennet, my depression has me to the point where there are many, many days wherein I can't conceptualize there being a tomorrow morning for me.
"You've heard of subversion myths? Anthropologists love to discuss
these."
I dug back to a grad school seminar on mythology. "Blame giving.
Stories that find scapegoats for complicated problems."
"Exactly. Usually the scapegoats are outsiders -- racial,
ethnic, or religious groups that make others uneasy. Romans accused early
Christians of of incest and child sacrifice. Later Christian sects accused one
another, then Christians pointed the same finger at Jews. Thousands died because
of such beliefs. Think of the witch trials. Or the Holocaust. And it's not just
old news. After the student uprising in France in the late sixties, Jewish
shopkeepers were accused of kidnapping teenage girls from boutique dressing
rooms."

Full of useful information. As you may be aware, anthropology is the study of humanity, and this may explain why I find these books to be so fascinating, as they really delve into the human condition.

One of the things about Reich that I found somewhat irritating is that she held out. What I mean by this is that she didn't reveal the plot as the story was revealed; there were certain aspects that she kept "mysterious" and didn't reveal until almost the end of the book. For instance,

I told her Elisabeth's skeleton was packed and ready, and that the report
was being typed. She said the bones would be picked up first thing Monday
morning.
"Thank you so much, Dr. Brennan. We await your report with great
anticipation."
I did not avail myself of the opening. I had no idea how
they'd react to what I'd written.
Now, she's been alluding to some finding for quite a few chapters, but has yet to reveal, exactly, what this suspicion of hers is. It's a tease, of course, and meant to keep the reader engaged but, trust me, with her writing, she really doesn't need to use such an obvious ploy.

Another passage that spoke to me:
Though age has mellowed Sam, I doubt that it will ever
change his discomfiture at social interaction. It isn't that he doesn't want to
participate. He does. His seeking the office of mayor proves that. Life just
doesn't operate for Sam the way it does for others. So he buys bikes and wings
for flying. They provide stimulation and excitement, but remain predictable and
manageable. Sam Rayburn is one of the most complex and intelligent people I have
ever met.


I, too, find the need for life to stimulate me. One of the things that I used to do to find this stimulation was drive fast. Safely, but definitely fast. My last car, the Pontiac Grand Prix GTP Comp G, allowed me to do this, quite safely.

Here's another example of the annoying "toy with the reader so the reader will continue reading" ploys that Reich employs:
Sam dragged a ladder from under the field house and
propped it against the trailer. He brushed away spiderwebs, tested his weight on
the first rung, then climbed up.

"What the hell?"
"What?"
"Sonofabitch."
"What is it?"

He rotated something in his hand.
"I'll be goddamned."
"What is it?" I tried to see what
the monkey had dropped, but Sam's body obscured my view.

Sam stood motionless at the top of the ladder, his head
bent.

"Sam, what is it?"
Without a word he climbed down and held the object out for
my inspection. I knew instantly what it was and what it meant, and felt the
sunshine go out of the day.

I met Sam's eyes and we stared at each other in
silence.

[End of chapter]
Not to sound ungrateful, but couldn't she tell the reader what it was that was found before ending the chapter?

Well, I guess when a writer is able to evoke such emotion out of an individual, it merely is a testament as to the high quality of her writing. So if you like Grafton and Cornwell, by all means, check out Reichs. I did, and I'm glad. I hope you will be, too.

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