I am currently reading Sara Paretsky’s latest V.I. Warshawski novel, BREAKDOWN. It’s set in the present day and sees the series’ long-suffering heroine chance upon some teenage girls who are in a cemetery performing a ceremony they’ve learned from a series of popular books which will call upon vampires. Or something. Unfortunately they’re also in the presence of a murdered man and in trying to shield the girls from the unsympathetic eyes of the police Vic opens up a world of trouble for herself.
I’m about a third of the way through the book and am increasingly frustrated by the political agenda it makes no attempt to hide. I don’t imagine anyone who’s ever read one of Paretsky’s books or seen her interviewed would be surprised that the book takes a left-of-centre view of things but here it is not much more than a diatribe against Fox News (sorry Global Entertainment Network or GEN as it appears in the book) and various thinly disguised commentators and politicians. The plot device used to clunkily wedge all the “we on the left are very hard done by” messages is that several of the teenage girls are related to important Chicago political figures whose opponents use the escapade to trot out hate-filled campaigns against them.
The frustrating thing about this dominant feature of the book is that I have no idea what earthly purpose it serves. It is surely only preaching to the converted as no one who is even vaguely right-leaning in their politics would read much beyond about page 50 unless they had a strong masochistic streak. And do those who share Paretsky’s views really need 430 pages of reminding that their world has gone to hell in a handbasket? The more worrying prospect is that such a book doesn’t just do no good, it might actually do some harm. Can it really help to have yet another extremist view of the world thrown thrown into the cesspool that is modern politics? Do we really need to separate out into “us” and “them” at every turn? Can’t someone take a more nuanced position? Please?
My ultimate concern as a reader is that the story isn’t great and the reason it isn’t great is that there’s too much preaching and kvetching and polarising going on. When Vic isn’t being bitter she’s being so bloody righteous that she makes me want to vote conservatively (and for the record I voted for The Greens in our last election because the mainstream left wing party wasn’t socially or financially liberal enough for me).
I like fiction that explores social issues but this book isn’t exploring in any kind of thoughtful way: it’s daring readers to disagree with its agenda and ridiculing them if they do. On top of being annoyingly superior that’s bad writing in my view, and exactly the kind of thing that “liberals” often get upset about when “the other side” does it. Tsk Tsk.
Have you read BREAKDOWN? What did you think about its political overtone? Do you like books that have this kind of political overtone? Should I finish the book (I am on page 116 of 430)?