Friday, January 25, 2013

Kinsey and Me, by Sue Grafton

From time to time, I come across a book that makes me think, "If this author weren't so successful, this book would never have been published."   Kinsey and Me: Stories is one of those books, and I can't quite figure out why Sue Grafton would even want to publish it. One of the book's peculiarities is that it's two main sections--"Kinsey" and "Me"--have nothing to do with each other.

The Kinsey section features previously published short stories involving Grafton's signature character, Kinsey Millhone. Mystery short stories are essentially an exercise in the clever plot twist and, even though I read a lot of mysteries, mystery short stories get old quickly. I generally can tolerate a collection of them only when multiple authors have been asked to respond to a theme; seeing the range of responses can be amusing. However, just reading a series of short stories featuring Kinsey was not all that entertaining.

However, it is the Me section of the book that really raised questions. Why did Grafton choose to publish the stories in this section, which feature a character called Kit Blue, who is Sue Grafton's alter ego? Grafton wrote these "stories"--they are really more like ruminations on how having an alcoholic mother affects a daughter--in the ten years following her mother's death. The writing is inelegant, and the stories bounce from third to first to second person, with occasional use of such devices as addressing the reader directly and including a letter to give Kit's father a voice. Yet the stories have some emotional power; indeed, the pain and confusion are so palpable that reading the pieces is uncomfortable. If Grafton wanted to convey to others the multiple ways in which having an alcoholic mother scars someone, I can't help wondering why she didn't take these rough pieces as inspiration to write a more polished set of stories or even a novel. In the decades that have passed since the stories were written, Grafton has published 22 Millhone novels, so surely her writing style has advanced since she struggled with finding the voice in which to write about her own experience.

Not recommended.

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