The best way of finding new books is to go browsing through shelves that are not yours; in the bookstore if you have some extra funds, the library if you don’t. Fortunately I found myself in the former position a few weeks ago and picked up two titles that have more in common than their covers might give away.
Woman With A Blue Pencil, Gordon McAlpine
Not quite a mystery, not quite surrealism, but hard to describe except by giving it both those labels. Sam Sumida is a Japanese-American living in Los Angeles on the eve of World War II. His wife has been murdered and the police have given up the case. But in an instant, Sam’s world changes dramatically and it seems he’s never existed. The detective novel of which he was supposed to be the main character is being rewritten — and he’s been deleted by a New York editor who, as every author knows, is the ultimate femme fatale.
History is literature just like any other genre. And sometimes the term “marginalized people” has an appropriate sting to it when we talk about the past. McAlpine succeeds in giving each layer of storytelling its own unique voice, but not quite seamlessly. He uses the device of excerpts from longer texts, but doesn’t give the feeling of anything missing. The premise, however, is page-turning and compelling, so if you’re looking for something unique in a genre full of cliches be sure to give this a try.
Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff
I have to confess that I think I liked this novel better than the other. While also dealing with themes of marginalized minorities in American society, it more sharply draws us into a strange world, with parallels between a pseudo-Lovecraftian horror and Jim Crow segregation. Monsters are as likely to have sheriff’s badges as oozing tentacles. And while the villains may be an occult brotherhood, plenty of more ordinary evils get highlighted.
The main strength of the story is its wide cast of protagonists, all of whom prove sympathetic if complicated. The novel’s structure helps quite a bit since it turns out to be more a series of shorter tales that intertwine and ultimately collide at the climax. This gives each character a unique experience and point of view even without first person writing. I could point out some of the more creative moments of storytelling, but that would be giving away too many secrets. And like a haunted house, this is best experienced if you don’t know all the mysteries. I had never heard of Matt Ruff before but judging from the blurbs of some of his other novels, I’d be surprised if I didn’t pick up at least one of them before the year’s end.