Friday, January 20, 2017
Photo: from kirkusreviews.com, here.
It's been awhile since I've read a Myron Bolitar novel. I don't remember why, exactly. It's just one of those things: I picked up Nesbo, stopped reading him for awhile...and I've been reading other things since. But when my neighbor, a huge Bolitar / Harlan Coben fan (I'm more a fan of the latter than the former, because Coben was nice enough to buy me lunch once, and talk to me about how he wrote--but that's another story) asked me if I wanted to borrow his latest--in return for my letting him borrow all my Bolitar books--I said sure. (Thanks, Jim Fitz!) As it's a three-day weekend, and my sinuses are again out of control and I feel like crap, I started reading it and didn't put it down except to sleep. I started it yesterday and finished it today. (I read 90% of it yesterday, so there wasn't much to finish.)
It was that good. The mystery is very mysterious, and the pace and tension are so good that you'll be flipping pages, fast, like I did. The gist of the book is the title, though more specifically, it's about who your home is, not as much about the structure. Home is where the heart is, right? So where's your heart? That last question means more to the book than you'd think, and more than I'm letting on. (I'm a little proud of myself for this.) The book is about how far we'd go for our loved ones--specifically, how far a mother will go to protect her child.
The short answer: Very far. I know this. At my job I often see this, parents going to ridiculous lengths to defend their kid, even when the kid doesn't need defending.
This is an important distinction. We all know bad parents, right? Someone who lets the kid get away with everything: talking back, and badly, to them; showing bad manners, like not thanking people for gifts; and, perhaps the worst, defending them about everything, to the extent that nothing's the fault of the kid, so the kid never learns to grow up, to be responsible, to be self-reliant. We all know parents like this. Right now I'm sitting here, counting the ones I know who fit this distinction to a T, and I'm thinking 4, maybe 5--wait, there was a 6th, from a few years ago. It's more often the mother than the father, from my experience, though that last one had both.
So this book is about that question: How far will you go to defend your child? But...does the child need defending? And are you really defending the child, or are you defending, and / or celebrating, yourself? You ever see a parent so out of control with this defending thing that you wonder who, exactly, they're defending? Is it the kid who can never be wrong, or the parent who can never be wrong--so the parent, of course, couldn't raise an imperfect kid. Good God, if that happens, then that means the parent is also imperfect, right? Well--No, but they don't know that. Narcissists are not known for their logic. Watch for that, next time: Is the kid perfect, or is the parent defending the kid perfect, which is why the kid is perfect? From my experience, it's the latter.
This book isn't just about that, of course. It's about Win. In fact, it starts off with him, which threw me for a minute before I figured it out: Win's chapters are 1st-person narration; Bolitar's are third person. Limited or omniscient, you ask? Ah, there's my own caveat. (You knew there'd be one, right?) The third person omniscient narrator is almost a character himself. He hides behind the curtain, but he's there. He breaks the fourth wall to remind you he's there. Sometimes he masquerades as Bolitar's thoughts and voice-overs--and, unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference--but he's there, trying very, very hard to be hip and snazzy. This third-person narrator (who reminds me a little uncomfortably of the narrator Snowman in those Christmas cartoons of the 60s) interrupts his own narration to often point out the obvious, or to point out the cliche, or to introduce the cliche, or to...You can either take it or you can't. Most of the time, I could.
I wish overall that Harlan Coben wouldn't do this, but I understand why he does: Something has to set the writing apart, right? Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben and a couple of others--Frankly, they write about the same genre, and the almost-same plots, and something has got to be different, right? I'm thinking now of Robert Parker's last 10 books or so. If you threw a title at me, and asked me to summarize the plot, I wouldn't be able to do it. I suspect that if I'd read all of Lee Childs's, or all of Coben's, I'd say the same about theirs. That's not exactly a drawback, either: One of the odd things about the genre is that a series character is like a pair of comfortable slippers. You slip them on, and you forgive their age, or their holes, or whatever, because they're comfortable. That the genre's books all blend together is actually part of the charm, not a detraction. The way to tell Coben's Bolitar apart from Parker's Spenser (as an example)? Why, Bolitar books have the narrator who frequently breaks the wall and speaks directly to the reader, even going so far as to use the second-person "you." That's no small thing, by the way, and it's a way to ease your feet back into those comfortable slippers. Every mystery writer wants a series cash cow with a main protagonist and his questionable sidekick / partner. Coben has Bolitar and Win as Parker had Spenser and Hawk. And, of course, if it works--which Coben's series obviously has--then you keep going, right? And you don't fix what's not broken.
So read this one, because the tension and plot and mystery are so good that you'll forgive the third-person narrator's trespasses, if that's even necessary for you to begin with. And at the end, you'll have a moral question to answer: Did the character go too far defending the child? (I'm having an image now of the adults who beat the piss out of each other to get the latest Christmas must-have. Remember those videos of grown people beating the snot out of others so their kid could get the store's last Tickle Me Elmo?) I would say Yes, because of the people I explained above, but I'll bet quite a few people will also say No, that you protect your child at all costs.
Even if the child doesn't need defending.