Saturday, November 5, 2016

"Woman With A Blue Pencil" by Gordon McAlpine

Takumi Sato wanted to write a mystery novel about a grieving husband seeking his wife's lover/killer. His editor at the publishing house, Maxine Wakefield, would prefer a genre spy adventure about a secret agent tailing an assassin. Sam Sumida is a Japanese-American professor who fears he is losing his grip on reality: there is no record of his existence anywhere. Police detective Henry Czernicek is Sam's only connection to the world he remembers...but this guy is the man who was having the affair with Kyoko, Sam's wife..and is the man who killed her..maybe..a woman resembling Kyoko is running loose on the streets in a killing spree. In hot pursuit is Korean-American secret agent Jimmy Park, who hates being confused with Japanese by ignorant Whites, though is not particularly interested in identifying anything about Korean culture that would make him as distinctly different from a Japanese man (or any American man, for that matter) as he claims he is.

Gordon McAlpine - he wrote Hammett Unwritten under the pen-name "Owen Fitzwilliam - juggles all these characters and stories using mixed-narration and multiple realities. I'm reminded of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or "The Zeppo" episode of Buffy or The Lion King 1 & 1/2, where you have a separate story occurring in the background/periphery of a more commonly-known story brought up to the foreground. Takumi Sato, a 22 year-old Japanese-American man languishing in an internment camp during World War II, completes his manuscript for The Orchid and The Secret Agent per Maxine Wakefield's specifications, but only because he decides he will finish the story he really wanted to tell by having Sam and Henry find their footing in this forced, cardboard reality of a rubbish spy novel that Maxine manipulates Takumi into writing.

The book isn't perfect - the only characters that feel fleshed out are Sam and Henry..and perhaps the point of the book is that the characters with the most capacity for life get to finish their story. Jimmy Park is a secret agent/detective who accomplishes nothing beyond beating up a bunch of guys. Takumi Sato completes a book he didn't want to write, only because he found a way to complete the book he wanted to write, but felt doomed by circumstances surrounding him and saw no future in his current state. Maxine Wakfield got the novel she wanted to publish, but will never get to spin it into a series, because she twisted the arm of her writer too hard. Sam Sumida finally got revenge against his wife's killer, but his wife doesn't exist anymore and was revised into a twisted new character that is emphatically not the Kyoko he knew and loved. Only Henry Czernicek got what he deserved..even if what he deserved only mattered because it mattered to two different men living on two different panes of existence.

Even more impressive is how short the book is. There are a lot of high-concept novels out there that weigh a brick..and always read like something you've glanced at before on film or television. Not this. This was good.

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