Non-fiction: “Writing in an Age of Silence” by Sara Paretsky

silenceI truly enjoy Sara Paretsky’s V I Warshawski mystery novels, and when Writing in An Age of Silence first came out, I immediately put it on my To Read List. It’s taken a couple of years, but I found a copy at my Local LibraryTM.

It is a collection of five essays. Her first describes her childhood in Lawrence, Kansas, with a family of four brothers and oblivious parents. She mentions her schooling, where the works of literature were all written by men. One year, she comes across Little Women, and it becomes a lightpost, of sorts, for her:

I read Little Women for the first time when I was eight, and out of school for three weeks with measles. I wept copiously over Beth, I worried about Jo’s temper, envied her for her attic room with its tin desk and pet rat, was put off by Amy and her stuck-up ways, and wished ardently, not just for a mother like Marmee, but for the rational calm of the March househould. [5]

What Paretsky does mostly in this collection of essays is draw parallels between her upbringing and struggle to be heard and the Patriot Act and how white Republican men are still struggling to keep women’s voices down:

Contemporary moral and political pundits proclaim that women’s failure to meet the angel’s high domestic standard has caused the fall of America. Former Republican Whip Tom DeLay blamed the shootings at Columbine High School on two things: teaching evolution in the schools, and women working outside the home. After the World Trade Center was attacked, religious figures on the Republican right announced that God was punishing America for, among other things, the women’s liberation movement. [16]

Further essays describe her creation of V.I. Warshawski, one of the original hard-boiled female detectives (I easily put V.I. on the same keel as Kinsey Millhone), discussing the evolution of V.I. from Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and the other hard-boiled detectives of the thirties and forties.

I recently re-read Chandler’s novels. The first time through, I was struck most by his villianous vamps, but on this recent reading, Philip Marlowe’s loneliness stood out. Except for an occasional chess game with someone in the police department, he is alone all the time. On the two occasions when a woman spends the night with him, he is so upset that in the morning he tears the bed apart.

My detective couldn’t survive with so much loneliness. On the personal, micro level, she needs friends, dogs, lovers — she needs continuity and connection. On the larger stage, where she’s working, she’s actively engaged in crimes that affect whole communities. [100-101]

Paretsky tackles a wide array of topics: her childhood, women’s lib, abortion, civil rights, literary history, patriotism, human rights, and the list goes on. She writes intelligently and sparely.

Not only is it Ms. Paretsky and how she began writing, and how she grew up in a family of four brothers and oblivious parents, but it’s also a commentary on the Patriot Act and how the legislation is affecting this generation’s ability to speak. My one caveat for my readers: Paretsky is clearly a liberal Democrat, with quite a few diatribes against the Bush administration. I am perfectly okay with this, but I’m sure that some people may not be, so.

Grade for Writing in An Age of Silence: 4 stars


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