Saturday, November 21, 2009


Upon getting “Fire Sale” at my local library I was a little concerned at the length of it all. I haven’t read a book that long in a class since “Paradise Lost” and that was not an all together great experience. So I have to say that I was a little biased in the beginning and went into it with a bit of a bad attitude. So I finally got down to it and started reading. And low and behold lets just say I was not immediately enthralled in the book. I found the first hundred and fifty pages or so to be complete filler. Of course I understand that with a mystery book like this there has to be a substantial amount of build up and background and such, but I was worried it was never going to end. Certainly it was all relevant in the end, but I felt like the beginning of the book had no action whatsoever. I found my self skimming the pages waiting for something to happen. I mean how many time can she get into her mustang (that she references ever 10 pages or so) with her dogs, or talk to her neighbor downstairs, or complain about her friend? It gets old.

I decided that I wasn’t going to quit and that eventually something interesting had to unfold or it wouldn’t have been published. To my surprise, once she followed her dog through the swamps of Chicago (which I still baffled by, who knew we had swamps?) and finds her friend on the brink of death I admit I was drawn in a bit. While I agree that this probably isn’t the greatest piece of writing available to the public, I think that Paretsky has something to say. The ways in which she talks about the city, it is as if she knows more than I do and maybe just maybe if I kept reading she would reveal her sources. Also, while a mystery, she made it seem subtly academic. She makes a point to use language that is both simple and complex and she isn’t afraid of it. Her detail is both riveting and alienating at the same time. Having no known or expected there to be swamp land just south of Chicago, I could put myself into the picture, but had a hard time seeing the skyline in the backdrop.

Paretsky does a good job at exploring the difficult struggles of south side working class people and juxtaposing it to the affluent of Barrington Hills. Living right next to Barrington Hills I could easily envision the By-Smart family in their lavish homes with their fancy cars and fur laden outfits. Driving through Barrington Hills is like driving through Beverly Hills with the winding roads and two mile long driveways through forests that open up to houses that can’t even be labeled McMansions, but mansions. Countering that with the flats on the south side was an interesting contrast. Again, having never been further south than 35th Street (home of the Chicago White Sox of course), I had a hard time being able to fully amerce myself in that part of the narrative. I could of course envision what she was describing, but coming from a middle class family myself I could only relate to the characters on a superficial level.

Overall I think Paretsky presented not just a typical who-done-it mystery, but a commentary on Chicago’s diverse economic position. I don’t think I would personally read another V.I. Warshawski novel, but for the scope of the class it gave me another perspective of Chicago that I hadn’t really noticed before, and certainly left me curious about those swamps on the south shore. I mean, I know Chicago used to be completely under water, and Blue Island really was an island, but swamps equal the south to me, so perhaps one of these days I’ll go on my own search and discovery mission.

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