Thursday, March 10, 2011

How David Park pushes beyond details

I have a feeling technique will match content in David Park's 2008 novel The Truth Commissioner.

The book's subject is a fictional truth commission set up to investigate cases stemming from Northern Ireland's sectarian Troubles, along the lines of a similar commission that examined abuses committed during South Africa's apartheid era. It also looks as if the protagonist, Henry Stanfield, will wind up probing more personal truths as well. Sounds a bit melodramatic, doesn't it?

I don't think things will turn out that way, though, because an early scene shows Park and his protagonist pushing beyond details, looking for meaning, just as Stanfield presumably will have to do in his role as truth commissioner:

"There are times like this when the sad reality that he is of a different generation impinges sharply on his consciousness, reminding him that he is in fact more than old enough to be the father of most of them. It's not just ... their incessant texting on mobile phones that are also constantly brandished in the air like badges of honor to take some photograph; it's not even their laptops and iPods and their curiously innocent embrace of technology like children who have found Hornby train sets under the Christmas tree. It's in their use of language that he feels it most, the way when they are excited they revert to a minimalist vocabulary that spins on a few self-consciously faux and wearisomely trite examples of adjectival slang ... "
If I guess right, the texture of Park's prose matches the subject of his book. What books or stories have you read in which form similarly matches content?

***

A discussion at Crime Scene NI captures nicely the flavor and texture of what I've read so far in The Truth Commissioner.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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28 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

I can't believe this book didn't get more play over here. It's strange to see my own comments over there at
Gerard's--I don't remember them.

But actually, it was really due to my review of the Truth Commissioner that I ended up in the blogosphere at all.

I blame you, Mr. Park!

Now, where's your next novel?

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I think Gerard noted the density of the prose and the slow (though compelling) plot. Perhaps neither of those features lends itself readily to massive success in America. Or by "over here," do you mean Detectives Beyond Borders?

I tip my hat to David Park for bringing you into bloggery.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

And I tip my hat to him for what is apparently a great review Adrian McKinty's Falling Glass. I've only glanced at it, for fear of spoilers, but I will read it in full once I've read the book.

I didn't find The Truth Commissioner slow, and I suspect that the real reason it made no real headway here is that it got zero marketing.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I glanced at the comment in which you reported glancing at the review. I avoided reading more closely for the same reason you did.

I've found "The Truth Commissioner" less slow than deliberate. Many another writer would have observed the use of cell phones and iPods, say, without speculating about the implications of the devlices.

In re zero marketing, maybe I can get a second wave of enthusiasm started for the book.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I hope so.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I especially like that passage from Park both because it shares some thoughts and speculations I've had when surrounded by device-wavers and goes well beyond them. I especially like "their curiously innocent embrace of technology."

And the device-wavers are not just idiot young poeple, like the slightly drunk nasal-voiced woman and the porkpie-hat-wearing hipster marring my enjoyment at this moment, they're members of a commission investigating one of the more unsavory conflicts of our time. And that gets me thinking: Do my fellow drinkers occupy resonsible positions in society? That's not necessarily, but it is thought-provoking.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, that's one thing about books and the Internet. At the very time when books are under increasing pressure to sell quickly, technology can keep them in the public eye and make them subjects of discussion longer than ever before.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

My library (mirabile dictu!) actually has three copies, so I requested it. Once again, Peter, you've led me into temptation. I don't already have enough to read?

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Re: books and the Internet

That's what made Amazon so blindingly great in the early days: the ability to find books that had disappeared from the local bookstores. It also made it wonderfully easy to complete a collection of a series as long as you had the do-re-mi.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Unfortunately, this reminds me of the paradoxical task of bricks and mortar bookstores. On the one hand, the only way to possibly compete is to have the wanted book on hand and available immediately, on the other, to run a tight and solvent ship, things that don't sell pretty sharpish can't linger any more. I don't think there is any real solution, apart from mindreading.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I smile every time I tempt a fellow reader from the traight and narrow path.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't remember ever being so enamored of Amazon. A bookstore that did not have a title in stock could order it for me, and I would not have to pay shipping.

The boon for me was ABE Books, which offered access to out-of-print, foreign and used books and had the additional advantage of throwing business to independent bookstores.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, one would think a solution would be specialty stores, but the fate of independent mystery bookshops does not seem to bear that out.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, it's quite mysterious in some ways that little stores with devoted community followings, which seemed to be the answer for awhile, actually largely can't make a go of it either.

March 11, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Love the cover. Not so enamored of the prose.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, it's quite mysterious in some ways that little stores with devoted community followings, which seemed to be the answer for awhile, actually largely can't make a go of it either.

Seana, what crime fiction falls into this category? What from outside crime fiction, for that matter?

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I don't know if that paragraph would win awards for prose style, but think about it for a minute. You've probably been annoyed or surprised by snappily dressed young professionals dead to the world as they thumbed or gabbed away on their appliances. You likely gaze in wonder or curse silently for a few seconds, then go on with what you were doing. For Park, the sight triggered a burst of insight, observation, analysis and introspection. I have to appreciate that.

March 11, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Well, I was thinking about sentence structure, actually, not content.
But it may be that I have similar problems with any book that spends a large amount of time on introspection of the literary kind. It seems I complained about someone else recently. He was also doing the ULYSSES bit. Another Irishman? Is that perhaps a requirement for Irish authors?
Ken Bruen doesn't, though. And his style is far more congenial to me.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I know what you meant, and I generally regard prose the same way. Here I was so impressed with the content that I didn't pay much attention to the form.

I've read enough Irish crime writers to know that introspection of the literary kind is no national trait or, if it is, it's leavened by ample action, thrills, chills, spills, laughs and good sentences.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Deliberate, yes, an excellent choice of word. I didnt find the Truth Commissioner slow at all. I suppose it today's world the first sixty minutes of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining would be considered slow. The twenty year old execs running the studio would cut it down to five minutes.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here’s something I once wrote about another crime novel with tendencies toward reflection, though in a way different from Park’s.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

I'm not sure I understood your question,Peter. What I'm thinking of, really is this little store in the where my sister lives. Really nice small bookshop on the main street of town with a good selection, informed friendly staff, a neighborhood of well to do literate people who liked the idea of having a store right in town, with the bigger bookstores at least a drive down the highway. They had events, they built loyalty, and they didn't even have to discount hardback bestsellers, which the way we and most indies have been forced by the chains to throw away their profit. But in the end they too had to throw themselves on the community and basically send out a begging letter. From what I could see from the outside, they were doing everything right, except maybe not selling enough higher margin non-book items, but it wasn't floating it. I believe they are still hanging in there, but I don't know for sure.

March 12, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Seana, the small indie bookstore where I used to work seems to exist and thrive in large part because it is located in a part of LA with a large, nearby population of wealthy people for whom buying a half dozen of the latest hardbacks ("You know what I like; you pick out something") presents no financial problems or decision making. People for whom 10% sales tax is a piffle.

These wealthy and generally well-educated people also tend to have children and grandchildren who receive a steady stream of books from doting parents and grandparents. So the kids are spoiled rotten? It's great for the bookstore.

When sales tax in LA went to 10% (I exaggerate, it's merely 9.75%) that 1% increase from 8.75% created a psychological barrier that has sent me to online sellers more often than not. And not just for books but for just about everything but food. So, of course, the ravenous California legislature is trying to close the door on tax-free Internet shopping, with amazon.com as the evil, greedy behemoth. Ignoring the damage enforcing tax collection would have on the zillions of small online sellers (like the woman farmer in Virginia from whom I buy boxwood wreaths twice a year).

Buying books from ABE Books has also gotten more irritating as credit card companies now charge the "foreign transaction fee" -- as if any money was actually exchanging hands in these transactions! -- because ABE is headquartered in Canada.

Love my v-word! = conguess

March 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Conguess could work both in biting newspaper headlines, and for Italian readers who, like me, take their acqua con gas.

March 15, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

In "Our Mutual Friend" Dickens welds Mr Podsnap seamlessly to the style of the writing, I think...
"http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Our_Mutual_Friend/Book_1/Chapter_11"

The criminal aspects of the novel are very well explored... money and exploitation of the poor.

I thought you might enjoy this link, where the skills Dickens developed as a hack stood him in good stead when he came to write fiction.

"http://mural.uv.es/amarama/temes.html"

Also, just in passing, I mentioned your blog to a sales assistant in "Kill City" a very good second hand bookshop in Melbourne. There is a lot of interest in crime fiction among many people I met while travelling.

March 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Three thank-yous. The excerpts are printed out and ready to read, and I always appreciate having the word spread about Detectives Beyond Borders. I should send you some business cards to distribute the next time you hit the road.

Melbourne seems to be the longstanding Australian capital of crime fiction.

March 15, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

There is a signed photo of Peter Temple on the wall in "Kill City".

He won the Ned Kelly award, as described here:

"http://afterdarkmysweet.blogspot.com/2008/03/australian-crime-fiction-snapshot-peter.html"

I have to admit that our visit to Glenrowan, where one is greeted by a bizarre effigy of Ned Kelly with a gun, was a bit alarming. The history of Australia is full of stories of lawlessness. However, the food in the local restaurant was good and the people friendly.

I got the name of your blog a bit muddled when I visited "Kill City" so perhaps sending them some details would be of use? They were really interested to know of bloggers specialising in crime writing.

"http://www.onlymelbourne.com.au/melbourne_details.php?id=22719"

March 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. Australia's European settlement is notoriously founded on lawlessness. Any number of commentators have suggested that this makes it fertile soil for crime fiction.

March 18, 2011  

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