Tag Archives: fiction

Unexpected Thrills: The Detachment, Barry Eisler

I enjoy a good thriller. The  punchy prose, the non-stop action, the sheer joy of experiencing, “Okay, just one more page and then I’ll go to bed.” Barry Eisler is one of my favorite thriller writers. I love his character John Rain, international assassin. (I’ll save my thoughts on anti-heroes for another post) His books are fast and furious and scary as hell with insights into the true nature of evil, especially evil governments.

Then I found this sentence in The Detachment, his latest novel:

“I waited on a bench under the shade of some trees in the nearby Stadtpark, just a harmless-looking Japanese tourist taking in the sights and sounds and smells, savoring the sense of loneliness and freedom that comes only from solitary sojourns in strange lands, where all the everyday things seem subtly wondrous and different and new, where there’s no one to please or disappoint or explain to, where the traveler finds himself suspended between the beguilement of the comforts he left behind, and the allure of an imaginary future he senses but knows he can never really have.”

That’s one sentence, folks. 98 words. Ninety-eight words. Reader-me is delighted. Writer-me is awed. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to control that many words in one sentence?

Wow. No, I mean really. Wow.

That is a beautiful sentence. It’s a powerful passage. It’s almost a story all by itself. You wouldn’t think to find a gem like that in a thriller.

I enjoy thrillers. The majority are cheap thrills (pardon the pun). I enjoy them as I’m reading them, but by the next day I’ve forgotten them. Part of the problem is that too many thriller writers take their characters right out of central casting. They’re not bad characters, but they are stock characters and it makes them rather flat. Eisler made it onto my must-read, must-buy list because his stories do stick with me. There’s an emotional depth to his characters I don’t find all that often in the genre. Along with the fights and the chases and the scheming and ticking bombs, his stories contain touching scenes of loss and discovery, indecision and hard choices, friendship and uneasy alliances. All of Eisler’s characters have an ambiguity about them I find irresistible. I find myself worrying almost as much about the fate of the bad guys as I do about the good guys. Some of the good guys I really worry about because they dance so close to the edge of evil they are only one poor decision away from falling off.

In The Detachment, with that incredible sentence, Eisler attained a whole new level of writer-hood for me. There are quite a few writers I read just for the sheer pleasure of experiencing how they use language. They write gorgeous prose. I never expected to find it in a thriller.

Find it on Amazon here.

Banned Books Week

A friend reminded me it’s Banned Books Week. According to the American Library Association:

“Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.  Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.”

The ALA even provides a list of banned books: See it here.

My first response was to laugh at the irony. You see, my first experiences with banned books came from school teachers and librarians.

A little background. My mother had a fondness for “trashy” novels. Science fiction, potboilers, bodice rippers, Hollywood roman a clef. She hid them in her bedroom, away from my childish eyes. So I stole them. I got away with it, too, until I made the mistake of taking one to school. I was in the third grade. I don’t remember much about third grade except for the time when Mrs. Robertson confiscated a purloined book. Mom loved Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury and other giants of science fiction. I loved them, too. Brilliant fiction, wonderful story telling. Unfortunately the publisher must have considered it “trashy” because this is the cover on the original Glory Road.

(Oh. My. God. A naked woman!)

Mrs. Robertson was horrified, furious and outraged I’d brought such trash into her classroom. Yoink! I was sent to the principal for that one. A note was sent home. By then I was well enough along in my life of crime to forge my father’s handwriting and signature so my parents never found out. Did I learn my lesson? Oh hell yes. I learned Mrs. Robertson was the enemy and to keep a very close eye on her.

It didn’t end there. I think third grade was the same year I got my very own library card. The public library. The Big Time. Unfortunately, it was a kid’s card. A kid’s card meant that not only was I limited to two check-outs at a time, I was relegated to the kid’s section and forbidden entry into the main library where all the good stuff was. I wanted meat. I wanted action and sword fights and grand adventures and romance and quotable dialogue. It didn’t take me long to plow through all the fiction deemed acceptable for children. I devoured Alcott, Kipling, London, White, Twain and Dickens. Two or three times a week I was on my bicycle, pedaling toward the library to grab two more books. But how I hungered for the forbidden fruit beyond the safe environs of the childrens’ section. Eventually I learned to forge my mother’s handwriting and signature (tougher than my father’s who is left-handed and an engineer, so his handwriting is more like printing). So began the summer when my poor mother had a broken leg.

“Dear Librarian. I have a broken leg and cannot come to the library. I am in bed all summer long and I need books to read. I authorize my child to check out books for me. Thank you.”

A sob story and a grown-up library card stolen from my mother gained me entry into the world of real books.

Did reading Frank Yerby, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and other “adult” books hurt me? I guess it depends upon you ask. (and notice I’m glossing over the sneaking, stealing, lying, forging, etc.) I’m not in prison. Never killed anyone. I pay my taxes and never litter.

I never “banned” books for my kids, either. I didn’t hide away “racy” novels or discourage them from reading anything I’d read myself. My daughter was a bigger reader than my son was, but both enjoy reading as a pastime. They turned out okay. (all right, a tad disappointed in my son who has this corporate specialist regulatory big deal job when I was really hoping he’d grow up to be a rock star or a mad poet, but a mother can’t have everything, I suppose). I might have gotten a bit excited if I’d found pornography, but only because it’s nasty and I don’t want it in my house. I consider it a mistake to deem a work of fiction “too old” for a child. Or to ghettoize childrens’ literature. Kids are perfectly capable of determining what’s suitable and what isn’t. If it isn’t suitable, they won’t get it and it will bore them and they won’t read it. See how easy that is? I sure don’t see the point of protecting kids from the realities of life. What? They turn eighteen and then the parents say, “Oh, by the way, we wanted you to be old enough to know before we clued you in that the world is full of racism, hatred, Nazis, sex abusers, addicts, screw-ups, criminals, fools and politicians. Thought you might like to know.” Fiction is a safe way to explore the darker side of life.

By the way, Mrs. Robertson, if you’re still out there, know this. You didn’t stop me from reading forbidden fiction. You just made me more adept at hiding. So neener-neener.

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