Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cornelia Read's "A Field of Darkness"

Cornelia Read's A Field of Darkness earned nominations for the Edgar, RT Book Club Critics Choice, Gumshoe, Audie, Macavity, and Barry awards for best debut novel.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Field of Darkness refers to several things which are central to the novel as a whole: fire, memory, history, murder, and Struwwelpeter, Heinrich Hoffman’s creepy 1845 collection of German-language children’s poems.

But the crux of the book is the clash of social classes in America, personified by the marriage of young Long Island WASP Madeline Dare — whose “money is so old there’s none left” — to upstate New York farmboy-genius inventor named Dean Bauer.

Dean claims he’s “danced her into the ranks of white trash” of Syracuse, though Madeline prefers the term garbage blanc.

Page 99 finds Dean telling Madeline over dinner about the nasty attempt to sabotage his afternoon’s work in a local train-yard shed. I think it captures the clash between what Madeline refers to as “his Sparta, my Athens” pretty cogently:

He’d been lying underneath a tank car, welding, and someone poured gasoline into one of the steel tracks crisscrossing the concrete floor, so that it flowed across the room and down near his head. A spark from the welder ignited the stuff, but he rolled away fast and grabbed a fire extinguisher.

My hands started shaking. “Did you see anyone?”

“I think I heard a truck pulling out of the lot, but after I put the fire out there was no one there… just wind blowing through the yard. Scary as shit.”

“Is it worth it? I mean, last time you were there they’d spray-painted ‘scab’ all over everything, and now they’re starting in with the flammable liquids. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“It’s an open shop. Says so right there in the contract. This isn’t work they can do, and they’re trying to screw me out of a living. The union can suck my dick.”

I wanted to weigh in with Cesar Chavez, the Haymarket riots, to point out that unions benefited us all, raised the bar for everyone. But I knew part of my vehemence was family guilt for screwing over “the working man” in the abstract, while here was an actual and specific working man who had an opinion of his own, thank you very much.
Read Chapter One of A Field of Darkness at Cornelia Read's website.

--Marshal Zeringue