Friday, May 08, 2009

Noir Mom


I kept stumbling upon father books this spring. Now I've stumbled upon a book just in time for Mother's Day weekend that may not be a "mother book" but certainly has a strong mom.

What I Saw and How I Lied takes a long time to get going. The first person narrator often speaks in a noir manner, but it seemed odd to me that she doesn't have a noir voice when she's narrating.

But those are my only objections to this tale of the femme fatale's daughter.

I love What I Saw's 1940's setting. I love the idea of a YA noir novel. I love that this thriller is actually a historical novel. I love that while the adults are such powerful characters here, it is the young, innocent daughter who takes control of them.

I love that the ending of this story is not particularly uplifting and definitely leaves readers dangling. (The same could be said of Octavian Nothing, by the way.) Some descriptions of YA insist that such books need to have a hopeful ending. In What I Saw, our main character becomes a much more powerful person and we believe she'll turn out okay, but she's not particularly happy. And there's not much hope that she ever will be in terms of her relationship to her parents.

Earlier this month, I wondered if there were any YA books that covered the situation used in The Go-Between, in which a young character gets enmeshed in an adult couple's romantic relationship. Well, we do have something similar in What I Saw and How I Lied.

And we also have one spectacular mom. Beverly's that hard-boiled blonde babe from every noir movie you ever saw. What's so very fascinating about her is that she is a woman with nothing in a world where women still are pretty much just wives. If they're lucky. But she has great personal power because of her sexuality. She wields a lipstick and a cigarette as if they were sophisticated weapons. At the same time, she realizes exactly how precarious her situation in life is, and she tries to keep her daughter young and innocent so she'll have to use her brains instead of her looks.

While we're taking about moms, Grandma Glad is no slouch, either. She may be a harpy, but if you find yourself facing a possible murder indictment, you may be grateful to have a mom like Gladys flying in from Queens with a bag of money.

3 comments:

PiLibrarian said...

You know, I read this and thought it was pretty good, but not the fab wonder it had been made out to be. I'm not sure why -- it just didn't seem all that real or original to me (though it may be).

I later read Ten Cents a Dance which is roughly the same era (pre-WWII rather than post), and to me it was much more powerful. In Ten Cents, we go along with the protagonist as she makes tons of dubious or clearly dumb decisions, but she always takes responsibility, and figures out where to go next. Not a "happy" ending, but one with possibilities. I would have voted it much higher than What I Saw.

beckylevine said...

This looks like one I'd love. Thanks for the review.

gail said...

During the first part of the book, I felt the same way, PiLibrarian. It wasn't until the noir elements kicked in that I became hooked.

As so often happens when I read kids/YA books that seem to be playing off a specific genre, I wonder if you have to be familiar with the conventions of that genre (in this case, noir) to enjoy it. Will young readers realize what's going on?

However, the first time new readers read Raymond Chandler, they don't know about the conventions he's dealing with.(Or may have actually created.)Authors either convince you to enter their world, or they don't. I guess that could be the case with a book like What I Saw, too.

Becky--I didn't mention in my post that this book is a National Book Award winner. You shouldn't have any trouble finding it.