Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Snippet: The Lime Pit by Jonathan Valin

Since I’m flying back to Ireland today, I thought I’d do another Ohio snippet, revisiting The Lime Pit by Jonathan Valin, which I’ve posted about before here and here.

The following two passages give some insights into the psyche of Harry Stoner, his sentimentality and desire to help, but his deep cynicism of the world and his ability to make a difference. The second passage also has a go at detailing the difference between a fictional and real detective, which I think was a nice turn.

I didn’t really think about it. I wasn’t in a thinking mood. Which is no way to run a business as perilous and actuarial as mine. Those photographs had touched a nerve, right down to the root, awakened the strict moralist who hides inside of me and makes cheap ironic patter at the expense of my clients. Like an insult comedian, he’s a sentimentalist, quick with the apologies, the gush about how all his needling is well meant; and, like the insult comedian, his apologies are as phony as his laughter. All he really understands is anger – a comprehensive anger that extends to anything that falls short of the ideal. Which is why he stays hidden most of the time. He’s a vehement, childish cynic- all moralists and comedians are; and in a different city, in a line of work less likely to give him occasion to rail, he’d probably get me to into a lot of fights. But if Cincinnati is good for anything, it’s good for beating the dickens out of a latent Puritan.

I was feeling a very different kind of weariness as I trudged back to the bedroom. If Jo hadn’t been sleeping so soundly, I would have tried to ease the load by confessing some of it to her. The big difference between detectives in books and detectives in real life is that detectives in books are always rescuing their clients from perilous straits – which is a bunch of hokum, at that. That’s the way we would have things be, when the bitter truth is that no one can rescue anyone from anything. As exciting and professional as they are, those books about ageless beach bums who salvage their women’s psyches along with the family fortunes aren’t doing the world much good. All it takes is a little living to know how far from the truth that kind of fantasy can lead you and how irresponsible and finally dehumanizing playing the role of rescuer can be.
Now I am and have always been a sentimentalist. I’m a sucker for romance, maybe because I have so much trouble conjuring it up in my own life or maybe because it’s more romantic to live it out through other people’s lives. But, in my work, there comes a time when I have to abandon the abiding and pleasant notion that Harry can make it all come out right in the end. Harry can’t do that. And Harry shouldn’t promise desperate old men that he can. And Harry shouldn’t take jobs with that in mind. And Harry was feeling sick at what he’d committed himself to.

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Thanks for the snippet! It's so nice to have little glimpses into a character.