Thursday, March 22, 2007

Your Command Is My Wish

My new drug of choice is the V.I. Warshawski novels by Sara Paretsky.

I've only read five so far, and radically out of order, but it's clear I'll continue until I've read all twelve of them. V.I. Warshawski is a private detective, an expert in white-collar crime (which always seems to involve a disproportionate amount of murder), a relentlessly stubborn, short-tempered, independent woman with a tremendous command of knowledge and of herself. Mystery novels have never quite been my thing before—I've enjoyed the few thrillers and mysteries I've read, the economy of writing required to create the story, but I've never sought them out. This, however, is a thorough addiction. Paretsky doesn't have quite the same economy of style as, say, Thomas Harris, but these are mysteries and not thrillers, and she really takes the time to create the character's world, the people and actions who/that make up V.I.'s life. It's heightened to the point of being kind of inconceivable—having only read five of the books, it's a little ridiculous to imagine that one character could have this level of physical and emotional resilience—but that's part of what constitutes the appeal for me and, I'd imagine, for a lot of readers. Basically, it's wish-fulfillment.

If I ever, for some reason, went to law school, V.I. Warshawski is who I'd want to be. Reading the novels I find an alter ego; since Paretsky started publishing these novels in 1982, I can imagine that V.I. became a fast feminist icon, and that certain things about her character were a bit more controversial in the beginning (the amount of sex she has without committed relationships, for instance; I know it was only the '80s, and that had mostly come into popular culture, but the models of female detectives before she appeared on the scene *were* pretty different); Paretsky's also a distinctively leftist writer, which is interesting because, in my stupidity, politics never occurred to me as a salient aspect of mystery writing. But it has a great deal to do with the kind of crime V.I. fights, and why. The writing's evocative enough that a reader gets to be there with her, and the character's fascinating enough that I imagine a lot of women in the last 25 years have wanted to be there.

I'm happy to add myself to that list. I want that toughness combined with voracious intelligence, that clarity of vision, that supportive a network to catch me when I make egregious mistakes, that command of thought and action. Kind of nice to have a literary place to practice.


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