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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Murder in the 50s was so much simpler, wasn't it?

Here's a "great" idea. I've decided that I'll write for an hour every day on the train. It's not that burly of a goal given I spend about 4 hours on the train Monday-Thursday. But here I am the second week in and already I'm really losing motivation for it. If this blog has a desultory feel to it, you're welcome to request your money back. I can't guarantee my staff will get right back to you, but every request will be considered.

Sometimes this time will be spent on fiction writing, which will probably never be read but is again good practice. But hopefully it also leads to more blogging. Last year I migrated my blog to this spot and decided to focus it on books - at least for books as a launching point for writing about whatever I like. The old general blog was set to private for a while, but you can find it again at A Desk Full of Misc.

Whew! I think we're all caught up now. That's nice, isn't it? For those of you wondering what's going on in my pretty little head on the train while I silently judge everyone for what they're reading, I think you're probably all caught up. (Here's a hint: if the back of your book is covered completely by a picture of the author I'm privately barfing).

So here's a book I read! A Kiss Before Dying. Ira Levin has written a couple books I'm sure you've heard of, like Rosemary's Baby, and The Stepford Wives. Up to now I'd never read anything by him, but A Kiss Before Dying is his first. Levin wrote it in the 50s when he was 25, which I mean come on. Levin's smart, though, in the sense that he writes about young people instead of trying to guess what it's like being much older. I think this is probably the key to writing well when you're young and probably understand better what it's like than you ever will again.

A Kiss Before Dying follows a sociopath college student obsessed with marrying an heiress. He's handsome and manipulative and has no compunctions about how to get what he wants. Things don't go quite as planned, let's say. The more I talk about it the less fun you'll have figuring it out, so I'll leave it at that. There is at least one really great reveal, so don't look too close into it before reading.

There's lots of clever stuff here in terms of story structure. Much of the book is from the Villain Protagonist point of view, but in contrast to something like Breaking Bad or Mad Men, there is never any point where you root for the villain, even if you understand his intentions. It's an interesting device, but luckily later in the book we get into some other character's heads.

By the end of August, when he had been in New York five months and had had six jobs, he was again prey to the awful insecurity of being one among many rather than one alone; unadmired and with no tangible sign of success.

The point of view switches in interesting ways and there are some sneaky little surprises throughout. I think it wraps up a little too tritely, but aside from that I don't have much in the way of quibbles. I like the amateur sleuthing that takes place among some of the characters, and it's nice the way they have people move in and out of each others' stories.

Here's something I could relate to:
Viewing himself again as he refastened his jacket, he wished he could as easily exchange his face, temporarily, for one less distinctive design. There were times, he realized, when being so handsome was a definite handicap.