Popular Montreal newspaper columnist Bernard Mendelman has been kind enough to recommend my book to Hillary Clinton, which is of course him being nice to a new writer, and also dangling a hook for his readers. But Hillary’s taste in Eastern Townships murder mysteries must be familiar to most Canadians now, since her recent high-profile visit to Louise Penny.
Once in a while you read about Hillary’s reading preferences. How do people know these things? Regardless, as well as Louise Penny, she apparently likes Jacqueline Winspear. Sometimes a pundit will take a swipe at this preference for the cozyesque (it’s always open season on Hillary, and as if the reading of dark thrillers and/or serious fiction were a virtue.) Me, I read everything. But Penny and Winspear are both near the boundary of my tolerance for this type of light crime writing, which some people call cozy and others call classic golden age detective stories.
Funny, maybe, because AFTER THE WINTER, with its romantic suspense elements, its detailed descriptions of the social sphere and meticulous meting out of justice (my way), probably falls into that category. Not to mention my second book, THE AU PAIR, out October 11, which has as an important theme child care for pete’s sake! I like to think I write Gothic Cozy, mingling the fear with the domestic, both its pitfalls and its comforts. No one has yet offered Gothic Cozy as a category, so I’m offering it.
Anyway, back to Hillary. When I read Winspear in particular I wonder, I really do, at the woman who after Angela Merkel was once the world’s most powerful woman, on the hook for Benghazi, reading about these uncomplicated and decent people (in some cases the virtue positively shines) surrounded by evil that they will manage, somehow, to push back. I wonder in particular about the exact nature of the appeal.
Years ago I read an interview with a Yale professor, eminent in her field, which I think was science or engineering, but who’d had a lot of hardship in her life, an inordinate amount. She was a widow, she had four children. I was raising a young kid myself then, so I related, although the pressures on her had to be much much greater, or at least, very different, than mine, since I had deliberately picked a camouflaged existence in the slow lane. Anyhow, this Yale professor said in the interview that it was novels that saved her. Maybe a few other things as well, but it was the novels she dwelt on. She talked about the stack of books by her bedside table that she could never do without. These books were for 3 am reading, reading when she woke in the dead hours of the night and thought too much about everything, and there was only fiction to distract her and take her to the morning.
I’ve no trouble imagining Hillary Clinton reading Louise Penny and Jacqueline Winspear for much the same reason. If anyone is more intimately acquainted than most with the real world, with the noir in life, with the disturbed nature of the times we live in, it’s Hillary surely. And who better than she to understand the necessity of a temporary escape, and the benefit of it. So the next time you hear someone dissing light escapist fiction, just remember: don’t assume people read escapist fiction because they’re weak or can’t face reality. Sometimes, they read it so that they can go on facing the no-good-outcome challenges confronting them and shouldering the heavy burdens that most of us would never ever willingly take up.