Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

By Martha Reed

The family partnership has decided to sell our summer cottage due to a bunch of different reasons all of which involve money in one form or another. This makes it a difficult summer for me since I’ve been visiting this cottage every summer for fifty years and it’s such an ingrained part of me that when I consider giving it up it makes me wonder: well, then, if I’m not Martha Reed from Muskoka then who am I?

I’m trying to look at this as a liberating experience: once again I get to reinvent myself but I happened to like this part of me and I was hoping to be able to leave it alone. I have enough other parts of me that still need work including the new parts recently affected by pernicious gravity. No such luck.

My fellow partners have been removing memorabilia off the walls and out of the china cabinet as their timeshares end and they say farewell, so there are a few bare spots around the cottage that weren’t vacant last year. Yesterday, I did my part when I sent the family off to play golf, poured a cup of coffee and decided to go through our ‘library’.

Unaccountably, our ‘library’ is the darkest, dankest room in the cottage, all the way to the back and with a fireplace that rarely gets used. There are, however, bookshelves along three walls and these shelves are filled with a hundred years’ worth of dog-eared summer reading.

I can remember switching dust covers on a couple of the books and sneaking some racy ‘70’s novels up to my room when I was a preteen but to my delight I really dug into the stacks yesterday and turned up some early mystery novels that I didn’t know where there: The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart was a particular find since I’ve been meaning to seriously study her body of work. I’m taking that one home with me.

Since these books were leftovers from various family members, I’ve been able to do a little detective work of my own. I’ve been trying to uncover the reading tastes or preferred genres of the previous vacationing generations by looking at who signed what on which flyleaf. I now have solid proof that my grandmother was a voracious reader of modern (for her time) novels; I had never seen the woman pick up a book but my older cousin had reported that observation to me. My grandfather loved spy novels like LeCarre. My great-aunt was the mystery buff. Perhaps it is genetic.

One of the books I pulled off the shelf was Death in Holy Orders by PD James. Honestly, sometimes I have trouble reading English novels because I’m lazy and non-American writers use grammatically correct sentence structure and a bigger Oxford vocabulary than I’m used to and it hurts my brain. I feel stupid when I don’t catch all the coy intellectual references and I have to google them up. I’m from the Papa Hemingway school of using small words and saying just what you mean but I figured that since I was on vacation maybe I should work my brain just a little to keep it from atrophy. I ended up loving the book, but what really rang my bell was a little epilogue from PD James on why she wrote detective fiction. One passage in particular caught my attention and I thought it was right on:

As I continued with the genre I became increasingly fascinated with its possibilities. In particular, how one could use what some might see as an outworn form to produce a contemporary novel which would provide excitement and mystery and yet say something true about contemporary men and women under the trauma of a police investigation for murder.

- PD James

I’ve been working on my latest mystery novel and I’ve begun to see exciting new possibilities including the scary idea that perhaps I’ve expanded past the borders of my genre and that I might be stepping off into a larger, deeper pool. Luckily, the part of me I’m keeping during this latest transition includes my lifesaving certification.


Joyce said...

Martha, giving up the family cottage has to be so traumatic! If it was in my family, I'd probably be the lone person who refuses to sell. You'll have to start a new tradition now.

Annette said...

Welcome home, Martha. And I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your family cottage. It sounds like a wonderful place full of history and memories.

And a great place to set a mystery. You can keep it alive forever by using it as a setting and revisiting it in your mind.

I do that with my grandparents farmhouse, where I spent a large portion of my youth. That house shows up in every book I write.

Working Stiffs said...

Joyce, it was tramatic - more like a funeral than anything I expected with people, great people, coming through the house and offering condolence (but no casseroles).

And we're not really home yet - I'm sitting very quietly in the hallway of our hotel room at the Hilton Niagara Falls while everyone else still sleeps - we decided to take an extra day and enjoy it up here. It's been wonderful, and if you've never been to Niagara on the Lake I highly recommend it - golf, wine tours, fabulous restaurants, antique shops, and last night at the Niagara Casino I came away $45 ahead in slot poker!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I've always dreamed of inheriting an old home and going through its treasures. Sounds like the library was a treasure trove.

Have fun on your final day of vacation.