Tuesday, July 08, 2014

To the Power of Three

At the beginning of the year, I read some amazing books that kind of blew my mind, and also I thought I was on a roll and going to read nothing but solid gold all year.  Well, that stopped, and I've been chasing greatness for a while now.  I read a bunch of mysteries, searching for a Tana French replacement (she has a new book coming out in September (Arg! Can't wait!)  Laura Lippman's getting a lot of good press lately, so I borrowed her To the Power of Three (2012) from the library.

It begins with a young woman taking a gun to school and quickly follows with three friends getting shot in a bathroom at the school.  One in the foot, one in the chest - dead, and the other in the face - critical condition.  For some reason I couldn't keep the girls straight - I could never remember which one was dead and which one was on life support.  Their names were Kat and Perri.  (Katy Perry? I was irrationally stuck on that.  Which reminds me...  when I was in 7th grade, we were supposed to write a story on a team and my team and I wrote this epic mystery about a rich family, in our minds a kind of VC Andrews thing, and we spent DAYS thinking about what their names should be.  Finally we came up with Levi and Calvin, and then on the day we read our stories out loud to the class, my nemesis made fun of us because we picked names from 2 brands of jeans.  Ugh, I hate that stupid bitch!)

Anyway, there are some weird inconsistencies with the story shot-in-the-foot tells and the police don't believe her version of events, so, even though it seems pretty obvious that coma-girl did the shooting, you know there's more to the story.

The major problem for me was there were just too many characters in this book.   I mean, I could barely keep the three girls straight, which is on me, but then there were all the girls' parents, their classmates, their damn guidance counselor, their fucking uncles and grandparents, their goddamn neighbors, ex-boyfriends who are now in college but back in town for the summer, a whole cast of unpopular girls, the drama teacher!  etc.  My god.  Everyone knows that a good mystery needs a fair number of characters, perhaps limited, Agatha Christie-style, on an island or a train or something, so you have plenty of people to red-herring your readers with, but an entire high school full of people is too much.  And, when you have a huge number of people in your mystery, and in the end it turns out your murderer is someone who was mentioned once in the second half of a paragraph on page 38, it's goddamn infuriating is what it is.

What Lippman does capture, very well, is the language and intensity of high schoolers, not to mention ones that are experiencing a school shooting:
Others were ignoring the guidelines for a Level II emergency, holding their cell phones low by their hips, text-messaging with the ferocity of young Helen Kellers who had just discovered an accessible language.
She also brutally demonstrates the pettiness that teenage girls especially can carry around.  In their world, small slights get conflated into issues of life and death.  What am I talking about?  I'm still mad at that stupid girl for making fun of me in 7th grade and one other insult I could tell you about in excruciating detail if you could bare to listen to a grown woman describe a decades old slight.  The detective ponders:
He was a murder police, well into his third decade, and he thought there was nothing new under the sun, no motivation unknown to him, no scenario he had yet to document.  And he was right. The story Josie told, haltingly yet determinedly, had the usual elements. Jealousy, covetousness, anger of slights so tiny that it was hard to believe they had resonated for even a moment, much less years.  

Ouch.  Nails it, doesn't it?  I think she approaches the kind of animosity women can irrationally hold for one another that Margaret Atwood explores in novels like Cat's Eye.  So, ultimately, I didn't love this book because honestly I couldn't keep everyone straight, but she does get at some important issues that obviously struck close to home for this reader.

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