Shading the Novel Gray

Though Marie La Ganga’s piece for the LA Times confirms that an aging audience likes to read about protagonists who remind them of themselves, it’s interesting to consider the article from a crime fiction angle, not only because she quotes Lawrence Block about why he aged Matthew Scudder in real time:

Then there are detective novelists, who often live with their

protagonists over multiple books and multiple decades. At some point,

they must decide whether their characters will sprout gray hair and buy

new technology or live forever in an unchanging world.

Lawrence Block made a conscious decision that his private eye

Matthew Scudder would age in real time. An introspective gumshoe and

recovering alcoholic, Scudder is semiretired and in his late 60s in the

latest installment, “All the Flowers Are Dying.”

“I’m often the person in the room with the longest continuous

sobriety,” Scudder muses, “which is the sort of thing that’s bound to

happen to you sooner or later if you don’t drink and don’t die.”

Said Block: “A lot of what happens in books reflects what’s going

on in the person writing it… . I’m in my late 60s also, and I’m

sure I perceive the world differently from how I did when Scudder and I

were both in our 40s.”

The flip side is what happens when trying to reach younger readers – as illustrated by the “cautionary tale” of Richard Ford and his most famous protagonist Frank Bascombe:

[When Ford] appeared at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre around the time “The Lay of the Land” came out in paperback…[h]e spoke about that novel and the arc of Bascombe’s existence. He

explained what novels are to him: “creative explainers” of life’s

truths that readers would find important “if I could just make them

interesting enough.”

Then the houselights went up in the ornate old building and the

floor was opened to questions from the audience, whose members had just

paid $19 to hear a 63-year-old novelist talk.

The first question came from a 30-something man and started out

like this: “As I read ‘The Lay of the Land,’ I was thinking I’d like to

read a Richard Ford who’s closer to my age.”

Which speaks to either lack of imagination, forsight or a feeling of immortality. I’m not really sure which…