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9:49 p.m. - Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004
Consciousness and Literary Dirty Pool
I was just looking to my left, at the books in my antique barrister-type bookcase, and my glance alighted on The End of the Pier by Martha Grimes, a murder mystery that I started reading and didn't bother to finish. I got irritated with it because it did something that I consider cheating.

I may have already ranted about the cheating that finally made me pull all my Elizabeth George murder mysteries off the shelves and throw them in a plastic bag in preparation for giving them away to someone who doesn't care a damn about fair play. George's great sin, in my view, is this: that she takes the reader inside the consciousness of the murderer — deep inside, and for extended periods of time — without the fact of his or her being the murderer ever coming up! Now, I ask you, if you had just, a day or so ago, committed your first murder ever, and it had already been discovered, and the police were investigating — do you really suppose any novelist could spend even a minute, or let's say at most three minutes, inside your consciousness without encountering a thought along the lines of: "Jesus freakin' Christ, I've killed him/her; does anybody suspect me?" I say no, no, a thousand times no! You may as well give Inspector Lynley x-ray vision, or let Barbara Havers fly, if you're going to turn your back so resolutely upon verisimilitude.

Now, what Martha Grimes does that I consider cheating is a much less clear-cut case. She takes you inside the consciousness of the murderer without ever encountering there his identity. My gut instinct is that this is a false depiction is consciousness; but I may be mistaken. I inspect my own consciousness and wonder if a novelist could enter it without there encountering my name, where I live, what I look like, or some other clue that would betray my identity. I can't really tell, to be quite truthful. I don't go around repeating my name to myself. I suppose a novelist could enter my consciousness for about 15 minutes without finding out where I live. It's impossible to catalogue how often, in the normal course of events, I think of something that would give me away. Trying to do that is like trying not to think of an elephant. So who knows? One's identity is, perhaps, like the fluid of one's eye: you see right through it unless you consciously focus on it.

Which is not to say that I'm willing to reconsider and forgive Martha Grimes, because she makes the consciousness of the killer very sinister and menacing, and to me that's just such a goddamn cliché that I just want to puke.


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