Off On a Tangent

Random musings from Sarah Weinman, editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Penguin, August 27)

Posts tagged lit

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The Murderer and the Manuscript

Almost exactly a year ago, I received an advance copy of a debut private detective novel, a fairly common occurrence in my professional life. But the terse biographical note on this one — “he is currently serving a life sentence” — made my investigative antenna go up, as did a cursory Google search. The result, after a few bursts of reporting and traveling and rewriting and waiting for the right moment on the schedule, appears this weekend in the New York Times Magazine.

It can be a little dangerous to delve too deeply into the story behind the story of a piece, especially if there are multiple objectives and feelings to juggle. All I can say is that I hope we hear much more from Alaric Hunt the writer and the person, but that we should never forget how Joyce Austin’s life was cruelly cut short and what sort of life she might have led.

Filed under lit Alaric Hunt Joyce Austin New York Times Magazine Cuts Through Bone

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Favorite Crime Fiction of 2013

Since some folks asked, here’s my list. It was an excellent year for crime novels by women, and based on my reading of 2014 galleys so far, next year will be as well.

The Best, in Alphabetical Order

Save Yourself, Kelly Braffet: I’m not certain why this novel didn’t merit more attention throughout the year, because it’s a tough yet deeply empathetic look at all sorts of broken families, a broken Rust Belt town, the pernicious effects of bullying, and the desperate need to belong to somebody, even if that somebody is the worst person you could possibly choose. Months later, I still think of the inevitability and the heartbreak of the ending. It had to be that way. It shouldn’t have been that way.

If You Were Here, Alafair Burke: Her novels, especially the standalones, are among the best descriptions of what it is to live in New York City right now. Burke also excels at showing the intersection between technology and human behavior, especially here, in this story of a disgraced lawyer-turned-journalist’s plunging into the decade-old disappearance of her best friend and finding out how little she really knows her husband.

There Was an Old Woman, Hallie Ephron. A terrific example of contemporary domestic suspense that features a fantastic nonagenarian heroine (and a cool thirtysomething co-protagonist, too) determined to keep her Bronx apartment from the grabby hands of developers and the sinister actions of unknown forces.

The Silent Wife, A.S.A Harrison: I’ve read this book twice and eagerly await doing so again and again, which is a testament to the power of this psychological suspense novel, my favorite work of crime fiction (ETA: of this year! Dorothy B. Hughes still owns “favorite crime novel ever.). Harrison, who did not live to see the book published, clearly invested much of her emotional and intellectual self in crafting this beautifully tense tale of Jodi and Todd, a long-term couple so bent on keeping up appearance they notice the rot from within when it’s too late to salvage what once worked.

The Devil in Her Way, Bill Loehfelm. I’ve been so bored by most police procedurals of late that it is so, so good to read a cop novel about a woman who struggles with the reality of beat policing, with the socioeconomic realities of her neighborhood (in post-Katrina New Orleans, to boot) and with her own demons, but not in a cliched manner. The second in the Maureen Coughlin series, and I want more books now.

The Wicked Girls, by Alex Marwood: Did you love Laura Lippman’s EVERY SECRET THING? Then you will also love this book, which riffs on the same criminal source material but does so in its own distinct and empathetic manner. Stephen King loves this book too.

Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight: a mother’s worst nightmare when her teen daughter falls off the school roof. Is it suicide, murder, or accident? A text message suggests foul play, and she comes to realize she never knew her daughter at all. What I particularly loved was its utter contemporary, technology-infused approach to suspense storytelling.

Norwegian by Night, Derek Miller: I read this book very late in the year and am so glad I sneaked it in. Another excellent elderly protagonist, this time struggling in a new country (Norway) with declining mental faculties and still grieving his beloved wife, who summons up his Korean war veteran past for one last stand in order to protect the boy who lives next door from gangsters, abusive parents, and others. This novel won the Creasey Dagger for best first novel in the UK, and totally deserved that honor.

How the Light Gets In, Louise Penny: my boredom with police procedurals melts away when I read Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels, which do something a little different each time out. This installment, she presents some of the most heart-in-throat suspense drawing from hacking computer systems. And a spin on the Dionne quints. Read this, and then the whole series.

Visitation Street, Ivy Pochoda: a lovely and gritty ode to Red Hook, that waterfront Brooklyn community changed by gentrification and both brought together and driven apart by the nighttime hijinks of two teenage girls, one who returns home, the other who does not.

Those That Nearly Made the Cut

Graveland, Alan Glynn — the latter-day Parallax View
Claire deWitt and the Bohemian Highway, Sara Gran - reinvigorating the private detective novel, a much-needed move
Ghostman, Roger Hobbs — great voice, pure adrenaline
The Next Time You See Me, Holly Goddard Jones — keen psychology and domestic suspense in a small town
Ratlines, Stuart Neville — semi-historical Irish crime fiction, with Nazis

Obligatory disclosures:

The Silent Wife was acquired and edited by Tara Singh, my main editor on Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. The Wicked Girls was acquired by Tara and largely edited by Emily Murdock Baker, who steered TDTW to publication after Tara briefly left Penguin. Alafair, Kelly, and Hallie are friends of mine, and I happen to like their books a great deal. Pretty sure everybody else except Derek Miller I’ve interacted with in some form or another in real life or on social media, because the crime fiction world is a small one.

Filed under lit crime fiction best of 2013

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Annual Review

With less than two weeks left in 2013 it’s as good a time as any to look back on what has been, by anyone’s estimation but mine, an insane year. The anthology published, rather well and to critical acclaim, plus the unexpected bonus of the serial novel I contributed to landing on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. The day job morphed more fully into a legal affairs and financial reporting position, and I saw a lot of courtrooms and pored through zillions of pages of documents thanks to our friends in the Department of Justice.

No parent died, which automatically made this a better year than last year, but with my thirty-fifth birthday weeks away I feel that shift away from youth more keenly than ever, something I welcome (added confidence, authority, responsibility, giving less of a fuck) and miss (where did all these doctor’s appointments come from? why do I look like I’ve slept four hours when I’ve really slept eight? Oh right, see Justice, Department of.) I know what I need to adjust. I hope to work better, smarter, but not necessarily longer. See more friends one or two or three at a time and really talk and hang out with them. Sing more. Walk more. Love those I love with greater strength and devotion. Stress-eat less. Worry less. Even if that last part is damn near impossible. And do more, in life and in work, that I’m proud of and that can stand up to scrutiny.

2014 is shaping up to start off very well, and I’ll point to what appears as they happen. But first, the wrapup of what, in my view, holds up best from 2013. Thanks for reading and coming along for the ride.

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives-related work:
- on Margaret Millar (National Post)
- a visit with Dorothy Salisbury Davis (The Daily Beast)
- Q&A with the family of Barbara Callahan (Domestic Suspense)

Other pieces
The appeal of the anti-heroine, looking at ASA Harrison’s THE SILENT WIFE and Elizabeth Silver’s THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON (The New Republic, June 2013)

On my near two-decades of singing in choirs, why I’ve gotten to know a disproportionate number of churches, and Stacy Horn’s marvelous treatise on the joys of the chorus, IMPERFECT HARMONY (The Forward, August 2013)

On legendary Montreal newspaperman Al Palmer and his books MONTREAL CONFIDENTIAL and SUGAR-PUSS ON DORCHESTER STREET (National Post, October 2013)

Looking for Cesilia Pena, who vanished from the New York City subway in 1976. (Medium, November 2013)

On the deaths of Karyn Kupcinet, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Dorothy Kilgallen and how they were co-opted by JFK conspiracy theories (Hazlitt, November 2013)

Filed under 2013 lit Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives work life writing journalism

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Next month marks the 13th anniversary of the “Darkness in Paradise” conference hosted by Club Med, aka the greatest American crime fiction gathering I never went to, and possibly ever. Among those who attended: Harlan Coben (tasked with organizing) Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, James Crumley (left, gesticulating), George Pelecanos, Peter Robinson, Ed McBain (his arm around his wife Dragica, hidden behind Marilyn Stasio, grinning in the blue shirt), Nevada Barr, and Steve Hamilton. This would make for the most perfect oral history, even if Crumley’s take will, regrettably, have to be cobbled from earlier interviews. In the meantime, here’s what Lippman had to say about it back in 2007. 

(photo via the defunct website of specialist publisher Dennis Macmillan, wearing the red Hawaiian shirt.)

Next month marks the 13th anniversary of the “Darkness in Paradise” conference hosted by Club Med, aka the greatest American crime fiction gathering I never went to, and possibly ever. Among those who attended: Harlan Coben (tasked with organizing) Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, James Crumley (left, gesticulating), George Pelecanos, Peter Robinson, Ed McBain (his arm around his wife Dragica, hidden behind Marilyn Stasio, grinning in the blue shirt), Nevada Barr, and Steve Hamilton. This would make for the most perfect oral history, even if Crumley’s take will, regrettably, have to be cobbled from earlier interviews. In the meantime, here’s what Lippman had to say about it back in 2007.

(photo via the defunct website of specialist publisher Dennis Macmillan, wearing the red Hawaiian shirt.)

Filed under Club Med Darkness in Paradise Lit crime fiction laura lippman james crumley Marilyn Stasio

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A Primer on Tommasso Debenedetti, Twitter’s Favorite Sociopathic Hack Hoaxster

Every few months, a Twitter account bearing the name of somebody famous in the literary world pops up. The syntax is constant. The opening tweet goes something like, “I join Twitter today. Interesting!” People who should know better, and a great many who shouldn’t, fall for it. A few more tweets that cause a ruckus, perhaps announcing the death of another author or some other famous figure, follows. And then, once it’s clear the account is fake, because some PR person had been badgered by gullible or cynical media people about its veracity says so, there is a final tweet that goes something like this: “This account is an [sic] hoax created by Italian journalist Tommasso Debenedetti.”

Debenedetti, as he explained to the Guardian in 2012, is unrepentant about his Twitter-hoaxing: “Social media is the most unverifiable information source in the world but the news media believes it because of its need for speed.” But his fabrication roots run far deeper, as the New Yorker’s Judith Thurman discovered in 2010, reporting on Debenedetti’s penchant for making up interviews with authors like Philip Roth.

He was not amused then, and likely was even less amused when Debenedetti created a fake account in Roth’s name in December 2012. But being unmasked hardly matters when you have no shame, and revel in other people’s stupidity. Which is why we’ve also had fake Don DeLillo, fake Thomas Pynchon, fake Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and just tonight, fake Alice Munro.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Debenedetti will be back it under a new Twitter guise some months from now, when the collective Twittersphere has loosed his last hoax from its memory. But I suppose I am the proverbial elephant. I don’t forget, I know the tells. Unless he changes them. I doubt it: sociopathic hacks always have a signature.

ETA, 10/9/13: Well, that was fast. So fast that after I retweeted it, the message — and an earlier one — disappeared. I was expecting Debenedetti’s unmasking to hold out until at least after tomorrow’s Nobel Prize for Literature announcement. He really need to find some new shtick. But don’t worry. He’ll be back.

ETA, 10/15/13: Apparently Tommasso rebounded even more quickly than I expected — better to brazen it out, I suppose? In any case, let’s “enjoy” fake EL Doctorow for its short-lived life and perhaps he’ll even start taking requests (Total Request Tommasso?)

Filed under tommasso debenedetti lit hoaxes fake twitter accounts

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I picked up this mass market paperback at a used bookstore in Toronto last week. It’s Toronto-based suspense author Joy Fielding’s second novel THE TRANSFORMATION (1976), and it is, along with her first (THE BEST OF FRIENDS, 1972) and third (TRANCE, 1977) novels, out of print and will likely never be republished. As Fielding comments on her website, “I don’t recommend searching for them- they’re early efforts and nothing like what I do now, so I think you’d be disappointed. Please stick with everything from KISS MOMMY GOODBYE on.”

For multiple reasons, I have to agree with Fielding. It’s good trashy fun to start, one of those “Hollywood excess” novels that owed a great debt to Jacqueline Susann’s THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. As such there is plenty of ridiculous sex (orgies are basically “all hands and tongues, male and female, and after a while she stopped noticing”) and catfights mixed in with some depictions of the film business that ring true because Fielding herself was a young actress in Hollywood in the mid-1960s (a small part on Gunsmoke was as good as she got.) 

But it is cringingly dated thanks to ill-placed homosexual slurs and lines like (I’m paraphrasing) “what good is it if you can’t even rape your wife” when marital assault in Vegas is thwarted by the lack of an erection. Oh, and then almost immediately afterwards, would be rapist and victim get hitched. (But don’t worry, the marriage is terrible!) Also the Manson-like character is pretty unconvincing, his “We are all one” satanic cult trying to be all serious but, sadly, more in the spirit of THE ROOM. 

Still, except for the ending, THE TRANSFORMATION didn’t bore me, as it was batshit enough for a long enough period of time to hold my interest. I kind of feel like more novelists should immerse themselves in semi-embarrassing 1970s trash novels to lose some of their desultory, middling spirit and cut loose. But even I might not quite venture as far as another Playboy Press “gem” by one Ken Edgar….

I picked up this mass market paperback at a used bookstore in Toronto last week. It’s Toronto-based suspense author Joy Fielding’s second novel THE TRANSFORMATION (1976), and it is, along with her first (THE BEST OF FRIENDS, 1972) and third (TRANCE, 1977) novels, out of print and will likely never be republished. As Fielding comments on her website, “I don’t recommend searching for them- they’re early efforts and nothing like what I do now, so I think you’d be disappointed. Please stick with everything from KISS MOMMY GOODBYE on.”

For multiple reasons, I have to agree with Fielding. It’s good trashy fun to start, one of those “Hollywood excess” novels that owed a great debt to Jacqueline Susann’s THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. As such there is plenty of ridiculous sex (orgies are basically “all hands and tongues, male and female, and after a while she stopped noticing”) and catfights mixed in with some depictions of the film business that ring true because Fielding herself was a young actress in Hollywood in the mid-1960s (a small part on Gunsmoke was as good as she got.)

But it is cringingly dated thanks to ill-placed homosexual slurs and lines like (I’m paraphrasing) “what good is it if you can’t even rape your wife” when marital assault in Vegas is thwarted by the lack of an erection. Oh, and then almost immediately afterwards, would be rapist and victim get hitched. (But don’t worry, the marriage is terrible!) Also the Manson-like character is pretty unconvincing, his “We are all one” satanic cult trying to be all serious but, sadly, more in the spirit of THE ROOM.

Still, except for the ending, THE TRANSFORMATION didn’t bore me, as it was batshit enough for a long enough period of time to hold my interest. I kind of feel like more novelists should immerse themselves in semi-embarrassing 1970s trash novels to lose some of their desultory, middling spirit and cut loose. But even I might not quite venture as far as another Playboy Press “gem” by one Ken Edgar….

Filed under Joy Fielding The Transformation 1970s trash novels out of print lit books

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Davis pointed out that mystery readers divide pretty evenly by sex. Women almost universally prefer the polite society murders they find in hard covers in lending libraries: men favor the hard-boiled paperbacks that they find on the newsstands.

“Men,” she said, “seem to find excitement in a sequence of violent action. Whereas women like the read about gentlemen, which they don’t find in paperback fiction and possibly not in real life either.”

Mrs. Davis pointed out that in the paperback field, except for Agatha Christie, men have it all over women. But women hold their own in the hard cover field, in which three of the major editors are also women. “Most literate mysteries,” said Mrs. Davis, “are written by Englishmen or women.

Dorothy Salisbury Davis discoursing on the state of the mystery-reading world in an interview from 1959. Or, she grokked what domestic suspense was better than I could.

Filed under dorothy salisbury davis lit Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives domestic suspense crime fiction

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Yeah, I think I’ll be tracking this book down. This, Naomi Hintze’s first novel, was nominated for the Best First Novel Edgar in 1970 and was the basis for the 1972 movie of the same name, which sounds astoundingly batshit and stars Patty Duke as the aforementioned pregnant damsel in domestic distress. 

Hintze (1909-1997) wrote five suspense novels in the 1970s; a couple of paranormal novels in the 80s, and this weird 1975 book (collaborating with Joseph Gaither Pratt) that was “a comprehensive introduction to parapsychology.” And that’s about all I know about her, for now.

Yeah, I think I’ll be tracking this book down. This, Naomi Hintze’s first novel, was nominated for the Best First Novel Edgar in 1970 and was the basis for the 1972 movie of the same name, which sounds astoundingly batshit and stars Patty Duke as the aforementioned pregnant damsel in domestic distress.

Hintze (1909-1997) wrote five suspense novels in the 1970s; a couple of paranormal novels in the 80s, and this weird 1975 book (collaborating with Joseph Gaither Pratt) that was “a comprehensive introduction to parapsychology.” And that’s about all I know about her, for now.

Filed under Naomi Hintze domestic suspense You'll Like My Mother lit crime Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives

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Richard Powers’ Next Novel Is Out in January And It Sounds Awesome


From Barbara Hoffert’s prepub alert for LJ last month:

Powers, Richard. Orfeo. Norton. Jan. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780393240825. $26.95. LITERARY FICTION

Once again, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Powers combines an elegant appreciation of music with the examination of crucial social issues. When composer Peter Els’s home microbiology lab sets off alarms at Homeland Security—never mind that he’s using it only to find music in unexpected places, a lifelong interest—Els goes on the run, visiting the people he’s met on his long journey through music. Dubbed the Bach bioterrorist on the Internet, he decides to fight back, plotting to turn his head-on collision with state security into a work of art that will truly make people listen to the sounds around them. Bravura stuff; with a six-city tour to New York, Boston, San Francisco, Portland (OR), Seattle, and Chicago.

Seriously, @wwnorton, send a galley over here ASAP. Or yesterday. Whichever is easier!

Filed under lit forthcoming books Richard Powers I must read this now I mean it right now