The Yiddish Policemen's Union The Yiddish Policemen's Union discussion


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handling the victim

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:22AM) (new)

In the Yiddish Policemen's Union Michale Chabon did something very successfully I've been wrestling with in writing murder mysteries- how do you make the victim someone the reader will really care about, without making their grief at the victim's death so overwhelming that there is no acceptable justice?

I think the victim is critically important in mystery, and I always get a bit irritated at stories that get around this conundrum by making the murder victim a sleazy bastard that any rational person would be happy to see with his head cracked open in the gutter.

I recently finished writing a murder mystery for MLR Press called Murder at the Heartbreak Hotel, which is a novella along with Josh Lanyon's to be titled Partners in Crime. I'm having a friendly discussion with the editor, who thinks I made the victim so lovable, and his death so tragic, that the story cannot recover.

So I was very interested in seeing how a master handled this. In the Yiddish Policemen's Union, the victim starts out as a stranger to the narrator, who is also the ivestigating cop, and so the victim is also a stranger to the reader. We get to know him and love him along with the person who is responsible for finding him some justice- those two things build together- and by the time we have resolution, and a surprisingly happy ending, this victim is as real as any other character in the novel- but by the time we love him, we have become accustomed to his death. The horrible shock is not felt by the narrator, but is observed by him in other characters. It was really interesting- What a fine book, I sure did enjoy reading this, and the language is so fine it'll make your teeth ache.

This technique for handling the victim- this will work best, I guess, for a police procedural, or a sleuth who doesn't know the victim well.


message 2: by Orlando (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:34PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Orlando But can Chabon find a victim who isn't gay? YPU, Wonder Boys, K&C, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, the action/plot points of each novel depend heavily upon the victimised gay male, the most salient point about him being his homosexuality (less so in WB). Chabon with the gay man is like Dickens with the orphan - it's a recurring theme that is starting to define his ouevre and, like Dickens, not neccessarily for the best.


message 3: by John (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Wiswell Very interesting observations, Sarah. I think your point about how the characters react to the observations is the most salient. Obviously most seasoned police officers and sleuths are going to have experience with crime scenes and bodies, so you ought to be able to transfer the approach to other books. Certainly movies are chock full of cops and characters who are completely unmoved in the face of brutal crime scenes. There are a few other factors that came to mind as I was reading.

Chabon's rich descriptions border on decadence on almost every page, which makes it a much more compelling literary read, but also builds a wall between the substance the reader's emotional reaction. This is because you're forced to work with intellect even as you're reading something that can be quite emotionally disturbing; intellect can diffuse emotional reaction. So even in the description of the victim, we are led to handle ourselves a little better than in more sensationalistic crime fiction and mysteries.

The first hundred pages of the book are so much about building and exploring Chabon's rich world that it's very easy to get emotionally lost. A lot of characters are distant, and because of the tone, much of the world feels uncaring. We have a sense, even if it isn't mentioned in every paragraph, of centuries of oppression and murder, so this latest crime isn't quite the shock it might be in other books. The remainder of the book is overwhelming about meeting the characters and finding out why this happened, or what things are related to it, keeping the crime in mind, while not obsessing over it and wringing out our sympathies.


Deborah I don't think the "most salient" point about this victim was his sexual preference, I think that just served as the easiest way to make him a pariah in the ultra-orthodox community. He was really depicted as more asexual and drug addicted than gay.


Judy I agree with Deborah, I forgot he was gay. I did focus more on the pariah nature of his relationship in his family's community. May I suggest that readers listen to the version on CD. The narrator, Peter Riegert is perfect, in his inflections, accents, and tone that seems to fit each character perfectly.


Andrew Deborah wrote: "I don't think the "most salient" point about this victim was his sexual preference, I think that just served as the easiest way to make him a pariah in the ultra-orthodox community. He was really ..."
Agreed...the more salient point was that the victim was considered by some to be the messiah, albeit a failed one.

Andrew


Steve Chaput I'm in agreement with you Judy. Peter Riegert is great and helped bring me into the story. The best audiobook narrators are those who can make you forget that it is only one person reading to you. They bring just enough difference into the 'voice' of each character so you almost believe there is an entire cast.

I thought the interview with Chabon, after the audiobook ended, was interesting in revealing how the story changed from what the author had originally intended. Also, how he took a long-forgotten U.S. government plan and used it as the springboard for the alternate history he created.


message 8: by Ric (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ric Honestly, I was too enthralled by the Jewishness of the book that I hardly noticed the murder victim. Such a joyous creation. More on my review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....


Steve Chaput Ric wrote: "Honestly, I was too enthralled by the Jewishness of the book that I hardly noticed the murder victim. Such a joyous creation. More on my review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...."

I was reminded of the Jewish neighborhoods (like Borough Park, Brooklyn) where I worked for years for the Brooklyn Public Library. I could easily visualize a number of our patrons and some co-workers among the characters in Chabon's work.


message 10: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Like a lot of others who posted, I too saw the victim's sexuality (along with the colour of his hair) as a secondary feature of the story.
What I loved best about the work was the writer's use of hard-boiled detective fiction to talk about political and religious extremism.


Casceil Orlando wrote: "But can Chabon find a victim who isn't gay? YPU, Wonder Boys, K&C, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, the action/plot points of each novel depend heavily upon the victimised gay male, the most salient point ..."

Try Summerland.


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