Underrating Grafton

Sue Grafton’s S IS FOR SILENCE is being reviewed in almost every major newspaper, it seems. There’s Dick Lochte for the LA Times, whose take is as measured as his reviews normally are; there’s Alexander Theroux for the WSJ, who may well have the most dissonant approach with stuff like this:

There is not a magic or an original sentence in the
entire novel. Instead Ms. Grafton has created a brand: "mixture as
before," in the parlance of Somerset Maugham, a phrase taken from the
world of pharmaceuticalia. Ms. Grafton duplicates herself
intentionally, like a druggist with a prescription to fill. As with
John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell and even Stephen King, you know what
you’re going to get.

Andy Warhol did this kind of thing, too, with Marilyn,
Mao and Campbell Soup cans. But when did readers become compulsivists?
It would appear nowadays that if a writer does not repeat himself,
finding sanctuary in the tried and (if you insist) true, he will never
find a market. Formula becomes friend.

Oh, and Theroux even tosses in Gerard Manley Hopkins! Uh, WTF? Someone showing off, there?

But Patrick Anderson may well have the most interesting review I’ve seen so far, because he takes the time to consider why Grafton might not have the acclaim of other writers of the white male persuasion:

If Grafton’s talents have not been fully appreciated, it may

be because male reviewers can have problems with the Millhone books.

The first thing that struck me about them was — dare I say it? — how

girly they can be. Kinsey agonizes a lot over whether her love of junk

food is expanding her posterior. She often tells me more than I want to

know about hairstyles, cosmetics, clothing and kitchens. And she is

surely the only private eye ever to declare that, after a hard day’s

crime-fighting, the best way to relax is not by lifting a bottle of

rotgut but by folding the laundry and scrubbing the toilet.


appreciate Grafton, we must accept that her series is written not only

by a woman and about a woman but also for women. We guys can tune in if

we choose, but we’re not Grafton’s core constituency. Having grasped

that, even the most hard-bitten reader, if he’s not brain-dead, should

come to appreciate Grafton’s storytelling skills, her consummate

professionalism and the brilliance with which she has, in book after

book, built Kinsey Millhone into the most beloved woman in American

popular fiction.

Now, I’m not sure I’d buy the conclusion, but there is a great point — somehow, when a female writer delivers a consistent level of work, it’s all too easy to either dismiss them or just forget about them entirely. Or try to toss in bizarre cultural references that have no meaning whatsoever..