Friday, April 06, 2007

Freak Show

by Rebecca Drake

I belong to two different book clubs though lately my attendance has become sporadic at best. These are groups that eschew Oprah books, though the mostly middle-aged female membership is certainly Oprah’s demographic.

Both of these clubs concentrate on fiction with an occasional deviation for memoir, and both favor works that are classified as “literary” or “contemporary." This means we’ve read both Bridget Jones's Diary and Twelfth Night in one club, but no one, besides yours truly, would ever suggest reading the latest Lee Child or Karin Slaughter.

Once, when it was October and my turn to host and thus choose the book, I decided to use Halloween as an excuse to force the group to try some crime fiction. I chose Red Dragon because I could add the imprimatur that it was a “classic” of the genre.

To say that everybody else disliked this selection would be an understatement. Reviews ranged from disturbed to repulsed and I could feel myself flush with the first-time awareness that there was obviously something very strange about me for not just liking, but having relished re-reading this book for the umpteenth time.

And then someone said, “But this isn’t what you write, is it?” and at once all horrified eyes turned toward me, the only author in the group. At the time I was finishing a novel about a serial killer who dispatches his victims with a nail gun. I found the death scenes the easiest ones to write.

Oh no, I said, nothing like that here. Rainbows and happy trees and don’t forget the prancing unicorns.

They all politely support my career anyway, especially since I suggested that mass market paperbacks are a perfect size to use as a doorstop or a paperweight. Some of them have my novel on display when I come over, just like a ghastly cross-stitch brought out of storage when the myopic great aunt gift-giver comes to visit.

The knowledge that I’m a freak initially disturbed me, but it’s becoming easier to bear with every conference I attend. I mean, there’s nothing like knowing that there are lots and lots of other people who like to write, read, think and talk about your own peculiar obsession. And like every group of fetishists, we spend lots of time discussing the rest of the world’s rejection of our favorite thing. There’s always at least one panel about the lack of respect accorded crime writers by the outside world and there are always war stories to share about the latest insults we’ve endured.

I’ve certainly endured mine. Why even the man I love best in the world used to write on the margins, “Why can’t you write a nice story?” And then there’s the wet-behind-the-ears, pimpled bookseller who, when asked if he enjoyed thrillers, replied, “No, I read literature.” Yeah, bud, sure. Get back to me when you feel like slumming.

So to all the like-minded crime writing freaks: What is your favorite war story?


Tory said...

Well, not exactly crime fiction, but certainly a fetish. I wrote several manuscripts where the heroines suffered disabilities from major accidents. An MD friend, who I had read my work to see if the medical stuff was correct, said, "I'm sure glad I'm not the protagonist in one of YOUR novels." I instantly felt guilty and repentant.

For causing pain to a fictional character? Come on, be real!

Joyce said...

I always imagine that all those snobs who say they only read
"literature" have a secret closet at home where they stash all their thrillers and horror novels.

Rebecca Drake said...

That's funny, Tory--I can relate.

Yeah, me too, Joyce! The best example of this snobbery I've read lately was a scathing NYTimes review of a Joseph Finder novel. The reviewer said he'd found the book in a hotel room and admitted that it was so engrossing that he never even turned on the TV (a favorite away-from-home activity), but then proceeded to figuratively rip the book and Mr. Finder's writing to shreds.