Thursday, 19 September 2013

Clothes in Books: Ayelet Waldman

 




The Clothes in Books blog is  featured in the Guardian books podcast this week, and is described by the books editor there as 'a delight'. The discussion covers fashion/lit issues, including Bret Easton Ellis, Waugh, Dickens and Mitford. 

The blog entries discussed in the podcast include those for Don’t Look Now, David Copperfield, Brideshead Revisited, Romance & Love in a Cold Climate, Cold Comfort Farm, and Rules of Civility.




Death Gets a Time-Out by  Ayelet Waldman

published 2003





[Investigator/narrator Juliet is visiting Mexico]
Just then we arrived at the central market. I paid the driver and we picked our way past the outspread blankets of vendors… we wandered deep into the market, past stall after stall of knock-off jeans and T-shirts. Tucked in between these stalls we found one that was unlike its neighbours. .. Racks of pastel dresses dripping in tulle, beading and sequins were carefully arrayed in cabinets behind glass doors…. I fingered the white gown that hung on a headless mannequin in a corner of the store….

[The shop owner] unlocked one of the glass cases and pulled out four little piles of tulle and lace. One, in a white so creamy it looked almost peach-coloured, had a bodice of pearls and little puffs for sleeves. It screamed [6 year old daughter] Ruby Wyeth at the top of its lungs.

“This one,” I said.


observations: Ayelet Waldman is married to Michael Chabon and famously said she loved her husband more than her children (it would be facile indeed to say – well, Michael Chabon? Who wouldn’t be taken with him?). Apparently not true of the heroine of this book, lawyer investigator Juliet Applebaum, who is shown as a harassed but happy and very loving mother, trying to do her best by children, husband and clients, and realistically rushing from one thing to another. Curiously Juliet’s husband Peter is one of the least convincing characters – he has not really fleshed out over this series of books, while many minor figures are much more real. The books, a bit wince-making, are called Mommy Track Mysteries.

But it’s an enjoyable detective story – set in LA with an intriguing combination of movie stars, a cult Scientology-style religion, and the leftover days of hippie communes and free love, along with the trip to Mexico – which does involve serious detection as well as shopping for the children.

Minor complaints dept: When crime story writers put acknowledgements at the beginnings of books, you do think they should be careful – there’s a mention of an area of research which flags up a plot development fairly blatantly.

Passage of time dept: the investigator goes to visit a witness, who turns out to know a lot about her, her screenwriter husband and her great friend, an actress, and about the connections between them. Juliet sees this as rather sinister, a bit worrying, how on earth does he know all this? The book was only published in 2003, but nowadays that level of knowledge would take 3 clicks on Google and IMDB, and is certainly no more than – say – if your brother or friend met someone interesting, or was going on a date, well, you would certainly have checked them out that far. (Or is that only me?)

Minor mistakes dept: The dresses above are described in the book as confirmation dresses. I would respectfully suggest that this is wrong: they are dresses in which little Catholic girls make their First Holy Communion at around the age of 7. (Juliet is Jewish so there is no reason why she should know that.)

The photographer agrees with me: this lovely image from the market at San Miguel in Mexico is described as First Communion Dresses. It was taken by Diane Tanner, and can be seen on theworldisround website. The site is well worth a look, and Ms Tanner has some fabulous photos from travels all over the world.

Links on the blog: Ayelet Waldman’s (non-genre) novel Daughter’s Keeper featured here, while Michael Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh is here. Books set in Mexico include Barbara Kingsolver’s Lacuna, and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - Really? Mommy Track mysteries? That wouldn't be my first choice even if the story is a decent one. That said though, I've been to some of those open-air markets. They're pretty interesting places and I'm not surprised that Julia finds that dress. Honestly, it's amazing what you do find.

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    1. I know - it's not a good name. But they're better than they sound! I have never visited Mexico, but maybe one day....

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  2. Another interesting book I never heard of, but should check out....LA, movies, hippies, Mexico.....my kind of scene!

    I can recall (dimly) both my First Holy Communion and Confirmation - and believe I was dressed equally as smartly for both, but can't for the life of me remember whether the girls wore wannabee wedding dresses for the latter! Funny what you can and can't remember with the passage of time.

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    1. I think the rules vary over time, and in different places: for me it was white dress for Communion, but just Sunday best for Confirmation, and as it happens the same for my daughter many years later.

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  3. I've read a couple Waldman novels that I really liked, but I've never tried the Mommy Track series.

    As for First Communion wear, I don't remember the dress as much as the flowery tiara :) Aren't quinceanera dresses the really sparkly ones in Mexico?

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    1. Rebecca, I think she is a very good writer, I need to read more of her straight novels. I just entered 'quinceanera dresses'on Google images, and was amazed by the result - so many young Scarlett O'Haras!

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  4. I never even thought much about the name of the series. I just figure publishers name series like they choose a suitable title and they often get it wrong. But, having said that, I have two books in the series and have never read them. Even knowing that she is Chabon's wife and said that about her relationship with her children and her husband. Bravo for her to be able to say what she thinks, right or wrong.

    Probably the reason they have not called out to me to be read is that the books feature an amateur detective and that is hard for me to believe in. But I have not given them a chance.

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    1. Tracy, she does a good job of giving her heroine/investigator an excuse to be involved in the crimes: she is a lawyer doing PI research work - in this one for a different firm of lawyers. I do enjoy them, will carry on with the series.

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    2. Then I should definitely give them a try. I have have the first one for nearly eight years, my husband found a copy at a used bookstore in San Jose for me. So I don't know why I let them sit so long. In 2014, I am making less commitments to challenges and just reading what I am interested in at the moment (well, sort of) so maybe I can fit one in.

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    3. I keep making those resolutions too! I think trying one of these won't take you long, and you might just like them.

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