Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lilus Kikus and Other Stories

by Elena Poniatowska
translation & introduction by Elizabeth Coonrod MartĂ­nez
illustrations by Leonora Carrington
2005 (translation)

Thirty-two pages of my 127 pages (don't hate me because I'm skinny) are given over to the Introduction, and my title 12-chapter "novel" takes up fewer than 50 pages (and that's including 12 pages of illustrations). Just don't expect me to do the math with regard to the sum of my parts.

I admit I'm self-conscious about the length of my Introduction. But because the very very short novel Lilus Kikus makes for charmingly enigmatic reading, and I am its first English translation ever, a lot of context and a little theory strikes me as quite called for. And obviously I have to say something about Poniatowska's life and career. Lilus Kikus, published more than 50 years ago, was her first book, so it's probably also important to describe Mexico circa 1954. Oh, and how could I not devote a few pages to the original illustrator, fellow transplanted Mexican treasure Leonora Carrington? So that just leaves, oh, eight or so pages that make me wish I could eat my words. I mean, I spend all that time and space explaining the short stories, and then when I get to the stories themselves I don't exactly agree with what I —

Oh, I haven't even mentioned my four short stories yet, and I think they're some of my best features. (Or at least the features easiest to appreciate upon a first reading.) "The Philosopher's Daughter" is beautifully written and beautifully translated, and "You Arrive by Nightfall" is fun, funny stuff. "Happiness" is a Molly yes Bloomish bed yes monologue; you could totally get an A on a paper comparing and contrasting the story to the end of Ulysses. Well, I could. Don't hate me because I'm skinny and have a way with literature.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Verdict of Us All

New Stories from The Detection Club

Containing 17 stories written to honor former Detection Club president HRF Keating on the occasion of his 80th birthday, I was really a lovely surprise. For him, I mean. For other readers, not so much.

People who recognize the names Keating, Dick Francis (who contributed a brief foreword rather than a story), Reginald Hill, Colin Dexter, PD James, Catherine Aird, Peter Lovesey, Robert Barnard, Simon Brett, Jonathan Gash, Lionel Davidson, Len Deighton, Liza Cody, James Melville, Andrew Taylor, Tim Heald, June Thomson, Michael Z Lewin and Michael Hartland will assume that I am largely if not entirely made up of murder mysteries. But no. There is some murder in me, and a certain amount of mystery as well, but what I really am, taken all in all, is shockingly low-crime fiction by a perplexingly detection-less Detection Club. A couple of the "stories" don't even bother to have plots, and several others probably shouldn't have bothered.

I suspect my authors were told in advance that the reprinted Inspector Ghote story Keating's wife had chosen for inclusion in my pages was the murder-free and unmysterious "Arkady Nikolaivich." But do my readers want a collective demonstration of professional tact, or do they want 283 pages of murders and clues and red herrings and clever solutions? Most of my writers were more concerned with personalizing their stories with inside jokes and Keatingesque beards and names containing plenty of initials than with delivering stories that satisfy. Add to that the fact that each story is introduced with the author's personal tribute to Keating rather than the biographical and bibliographical information you'd find in most anthologies and I am forced to describe myself as a book featuring many good mystery writers that isn't a good introduction at all to these mystery writers.

Only a few stories are worth singling out for one reason or another. Since I didn't realize James ever wrote short fiction I suppose it's an honor to have her represented here, and fans of Dexter may enjoy this post-Morse story featuring Lewis. I think only the stories by Lovesey (credited, if credit is really the apt verb here, with editing me) and Taylor are at all likely to satisfy a significant portion of my readers.

If you're a mystery fan, think of me as a library book. One that you aren't necessarily ever going to check out. Only if you're a mystery completist would I recommend that you buy me; I really don't see most of my stories being reprinted in any other context, and you may get a kick out of all the mystery name-dropping and the inside jokes. Future mystery fans, please just leave me alone. Several of my authors have written many wonderful mysteries, but you wouldn't know it by me.

Friday, October 5, 2007

George Bush, Dark Prince of Love

a novel by Lydia Millet

Hello, I'm George Bush, Dark Prince of Love. No, not that George Bush. (As if.) The kinder, gentler George Bush. The thousand points of George Bush. The George Bush who doesn't seem to realize that English is his native language, the George Bush who let Dick Cheney waste so many lives and so much money in a trumped-up war against Saddam Hussein. Yes, it was a very different time.

Any old hoo, I may have mentioned I'm a novel by Lydia Millet. I was published in 1999, but if I say so myself, I've never been more timely. I am the proud possessor, you may have noticed, of the best title ever, and I'd be surprised if I didn't make you laugh out loud, but it's not just about style with me. I pack a surprising amount of historical, political and verbal substance for a book you might prefer not to be seen reading in public. Rosemary, my narrator, is educated, articulate and current events-obsessed. She's also an ex-con with an assembly-line job (when she's lucky) and an elderly drug addict for a boyfriend. Do you begin to see how G.B. might look pretty good to her? Rosemary might insult her own intelligence, but she will never insult yours.

I haven't read any of Lydia Millet's other novels. You know how it is, sibling rivalry and all. But let's face it, I'm the one who got the best title ever; she obviously loves me best. So I can afford to be generous. I think I'll have to check out the others before too long. The woman who wrote me is definitely my kind of writer.