Monday, November 19, 2012
Historical Fiction (and Elvis Rain)
My favorite genre to edit is historical fiction; and by that I don't mean romances that are -- incidentally -- set during a time of turbulent history. (OK, I'll make an exception for Casablanca.)
It was E.L. Doctrow's Ragtime that did it for me -- written in syncopated style, when I read passages aloud I could feel the rhythms of ragtime in the words. And Evelyn Nesbit! Doctrow called her the first media darling, a woman who was famous for being famous. Doctrow drew his characters very well; and though I knew that Stanford White, Henry Thaw and Evelyn Nesbit were real, I was disappointed to discover that Coalhouse Walker was fictional.
I am not a huge fan of French and English history, though I studied both to understanding the context of Shakespeare's plays. If I were a fan, I could keep reading Jean Plaidy or Sharon Kay Penman for years... possibly decades.
I recently read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall -- a lot of reading at 600+ pages. Mantel finds fresh life in the stories of Henry VIII by skimming through Prince Hal and his many wives and writing about Oliver Cromwell and Thomas More -- but she wasn't writing a history book, her hybrid novel is historical fiction.
A chuckle here--Mantel's book arrived in the mail from a friend who bought it thinking she was getting some light reading -- sex, scandal and intrigue (still at 600+ pages) in the vein of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl.
The Other Boleyn Girl is also historical fiction and Gregory took great liberties with the historical context and characters in the book, which makes for a great novel, but made historians cross. However, the book was made into a big-budget movie and I don't expect to see "Wolf Hall" as a movie soon. (Maybe a BBC4 documentary.)
Historical bodice rippers aside, Larissa Macfarquar at the New Yorker feels that Hilary Mantel has revitalized historical fiction.
Historical Fiction -- partial reading list from my freshman literature class, circa 1993:
Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers
Ann Rinaldi, (YA books with historical background)
Ken Follett (yes!), Pillars of the Earth
More (imagined) Adventures of Elvis Rain
Elvis is not thrilled with the rain -- no, the deluge -- today. Dell had to practically drag him down to the Java Jive to watch the action between Ms UB, her dog B+ and Noodles' owner, the object of Ms UB's affections.
The only way Dell could get Elvis out the door was to put his red "Therapy Dog" vest on -- Elvis was used to wearing a vest. When the vest was on, he knew it was time to go to work.
When the Doggie Daycare van pulled up, Elvis made a dash for the side door-- it was dry inside the van and he was tired of standing under the drippy eaves at Java Jive. Dell reined him back in and the young woman driving the van smiled at him while B+ and Noodles got on board.
On a whim, Dell asked, "Do you need help?"
"We're not hiring."
"I was thinking of volunteering. Elvis and I were in the Beagle Brigade, and he's-- we're -- a trained therapy team, maybe we can be of use to you."
The young woman latched the doors on the dog crates, then stood up and pulled a business card from the driver's-side visor. "You bet," she said. Normally I'd say no, but you might be a good addition to our team. Call the boss -- Tom, tell him Amy told you to call."
"Amy, OK. Thanks," Dell said. They shook hands.
Elvis trotted along expectantly beside Dell and he realized that they couldn't go back to the house, Elvis expected to go to work. They walked to the Mini-School Cooperative Daycare--they knew Dell and Elvis there -- and the parents and kids going in all gave Elvis a pet. After that Elvis was happy to go home.