By December 15, 2008 2 Comments Read More →

The Values Lurking Behind the Words

Ultimately, that’s the most important element for me – sure, I love great characters, I’m addicted to surprises and plot twists, I’m moved by graceful, honest language, but the deciding factor is the quality of perception, what the author sees, the values lurking behind the words, whether the author realizes they’re showing or not.

What kind of authorial filter is deciding which facts are important enough to share with me? How does the author feel about his subject – does he relish the torture scene? Does he linger over the sex scene? Does she describe characters by their clothes? Does she really have insight into why men behave the way they do? And what does she want to do to me? Inspire me? Educate me? Sober me up? Liberate me? Entertain me? Impress me? Why is this author telling me this story, and how does the author feel about the incidents being told?

Jerusalem File  A perfect example is the novel I’m reading right now, Joel Stone’s The Jerusalem File. It’s literary detective fiction of high quality, set in Israel. The hero is a drab gray man named Levin who’s approaching sixty, separated from his wife, retired from Israeli government security service and now doing a favor for a friend. Dodging terrorist targets, eyeing pregnant women uneasily in case they’re wired to explode, Levin describes himself as being “in sympathy with the Arabs, like all enlightened Jews.” The novel is laced with a very realistic, melancholy dark humor about bombings and terrorism, the kind of humor by which people survive very real fears.

Author Stone passed away last year. His wife has guided her husband’s novel into print. I’ve got forty pages to go, and it seems to be a tormented love story set against the violence of Jerusalem, “while God and Allah sorted out the rightful owners.” Though the plot has unfolded through investigations and interrogations, all the usual detective genre devices, the results of those investigations have been far from usual, hyper-realistic.

In the same way that Donna Leon shocked me by having her Venetian detective take time out to play a board game with his family, Stone breaks the plot with a random terrorist act, an appropriate jolt of daily life lived like Russian roulette, a sudden, unexpected, full-on encounter with the kind of horrors that Levin’s old mother listens to religiously on her radio. The values behind the story? When the restaurant across the street blows up, Levin recklessly bolts across the street to help the victims. He isn’t the only one. But the others are all wearing T-shirts that say, “Walk with Jesus.”

The Jerusalem File is a sad, intellectual noir – at least I think so. Time to go find out for sure, and enjoy those last forty pages.



About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

2 Comments on "The Values Lurking Behind the Words"

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  1. As Joel’s wife I’d like to thank you for your comments on the book, a book I very much believe in. I appreciate your bringing it to people’s attention.

  2. Nick DiMartino says:

    Thanks! That means a lot, coming from you. It’s a heartfelt and beautiful book.

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