Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Couple Who Discover They are Also Friends

Agatha Christie couples also include the passionate couple who realize that they are actually also friends (Moving Finger).

Moving Finger contains one of my favorite passages from literature:
  "Luke, do you like me now?"
  He made a movement toward her, but she warded him off.
  "I said 'like', Luke; not 'love.'"
  "Oh, I see. Yes, I do. I like you, Bridget, as well as loving you."
  Bridget said, "I like you, Luke."
  They smiled at each other a little timidly, like children who have made friends at a party.
  Bridget said, "Liking is more important than loving. It lasts. I want what is between us to last, Luke. I don't want us just to love each other and marry and get tired of each other, and then want to marry someone else."
  "Oh, my dear love, I know. You want reality."
Christie was an advocate of the friendly marriage. She had a passionate marriage with the unreliable and self-centered Archie. And she had a friendly, happy marriage with Max Mallowan.

In Sad Cypress, the story of a woman who imagines killing her romantic rival, Christie has Eleanor choose the reliable doctor who showed her unstinting friendship instead of the unreliable, waffling man Eleanor had wanted to murder for.

The passionate couple who also discover that they are friends is a variation on this theme. They have the passion but do they have anything else?

My favorite M/M couple makes another appearance here since Silas and Dom's relationship in KJ Charles's Seditious Affair begins as purely sexual--a safe place for Dominic to get the domination he craves during sex. At some point over approximately a year, it transforms as the men begin to discuss books, a topic about which they are nearly as passionate.

What about the other way around--the friends who discover they are also a couple? In the below quote, Dom explains to his good friend, once his lover, why their relationship would not have lasted--despite their great friendship.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Crime Show Romance Themes: Law & Order Criminal Intent

While CSI:LV episodes tended to rely on dysfunctional relationships rooted in jealousy, Law & Order Criminal Intent episodes tended to rely on lost opportunities.

That is, Law & Order: Criminal Intent showcased what I consider to be one of the most damaging perspectives within the human psyche: I should have had this type of life.

One of the most chilling representative episodes is "Phantom" starring the ever impressive Michael Emerson as the villain. The episode is based on the true story of Jean-Claude Romand, the French man who pretended to work for WHO, took money from relatives, and ultimately killed his wife and kids and parents. Emerson's character pretends to work for the UN, "invests" money on behalf of a number of people, then kills some of that number--the show's detectives, Goren and Eames, save the family. The episode, naturally, presents the psychological motive in starker relief--but the critical moment is the same: the life the villain invented about himself is about to come crashing down/be revealed.

Marvelous Elizabeth Marvel

Law & Order: Criminal Intent returns to this theme, as well as murderous doctors (or wannabe doctors), several times, from Michael Gross (unnervingly) as the bad guy who wants the girl and kills to impress her--only to be disappointed by her utter lack of enthusiasm--to the publisher who pins all her faith on one of those horrible survivor memoirs (that turns out to be made-up). How they imagine their life's trajectory is out of sync with the reality around them. 

In fact, one of the first episodes uses this theme: "Art," in which an art forger kills because she so desperately wants to have a show of her own work. She is owed it.

An intimate relationship isn't the direct cause of the last two cases--although an adulterous couple does pay the price in one of them--but the couples of "Consumed" and "But Not Forgotten" (with the amazing Alicia Coppola) do. In both cases, a wife decides to take revenge on her husband for the life she believes he stole from her.

One of my favorites on the reverse side is "The Gift" in which a conman protects his nutty girlfriend, who believes she has psychic powers--but actually has a form of epilepsy--because "we don't do so well without each other." He knows exactly what the relationship is and sacrifices himself to protect it. "Someone will be there to catch you this time." 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Romances with Royalty

Americans becoming royalty--popular trope.
A great many romances tackle the royal personage in love. Several exceedingly popular books have tackled this trope--and succeeded in terms of reader interest.

I avoid them. To me, royal life is rather like pioneer life: I fail to see the appeal. Being a member of the royal family or the aristocracy stinks--as a large number of Americans have discovered. It's Hollywood actors' loss of privacy plus social and political expectations mixed into one.

And sure, Kate Middletons exist--the significant other who manages to combine exuberance and natural ability into one strong package. That woman has political and social intelligence coming out her ears.

The problem in fiction is that the non-royal protagonist is so often portrayed as an ordinary mortal--the gal or guy who doesn't have super-duper extroverted, social, political moxie coming out her or his ears. There's an understandable fascination with the idea of just any-old-person suddenly entering the fantastical world of royalty. It's so glamorous and high-powered...

And dull...

Oh, wait, my bias is showing.

As a lifestyle, I think being royal sounds utterly horrific: horror-movie terrifying and claustrophobic.

Some writers will decide the ordinary mortal lover can rise to the challenge--this is actually more believable than the writers who determine that the ordinary mortal lover shouldn't have to rise to an acceptable level of social and political obligations. Yeah, we've all seen how well that goes across in real life. No matter how many people want to back Edward or Harry or Fergie--the fact is, Kate Middleton makes a better impression with the populace.

In the end, the willingness of a royal family member to sacrifice all for love doesn't really pay off since the royal family member comes off as kind of a jerk.

Like with the Hollywood romance, I generally leave the genre alone.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Bronze Devil: Interview with a Translator, Part III

The Bronze Devil

3. Edogawa often breaks the fourth wall (Dear Reader). This is common to a great deal of manga, in which even a somewhat self-contained story will include a tiny note from the mangaka, off to the side in a panel, about how the character feels about being a character in a manga. Of course, these types of asides are also fairly typical of a certain era and genre, such as E. Nesbit’s children’s fiction. Do Japanese authors break the fourth wall more often than western authors? Is it an ongoing staple of the fiction? Or does its popularity rise and fall as it does in the West?

Serialized fiction like manga and light novels are still popular in Japan. By its very nature, serialized fiction creates an ongoing relationship between the writer and the reader. In the manga and anime Bakuman, about the creation and publication of a manga series, the manga artists constantly receive feedback from their readers, on whom their careers depend. I think this encourages the manga artist to engage in ongoing interactions with the audience. Social media long before the Internet.

Though in terms of Japanese authors in general, I don’t know if they break the fourth wall more often than western authors. 

 4. The chapter title for Chapter 6 is “Strange, Weird, and Bizarre.” The words have similar meanings in English but different connotations. That is, each word evokes different emotions and imagery. How important is connotation in Japanese? Connotation can rely heavily on cultural “insider” status, so a word like “slob” can mean something very different (and negative) to Greg’s mother in Dharma and Greg as opposed to Dharma’s parents. Does connotation carry such impact in Japanese fiction? Non-fiction? 

The Japanese expression in the chapter title is kiki-kaikai (愇々æ€Ș々), which is defined in the dictionary as: “very strange, fantastic, amazing, bizarre, freakish.” I covered all the bases. Though I think “strange, weird, and bizarre” is a good way of summing up the sense of the phrase.

Broadly speaking, I’d say there is more denotation in English and more connotation in Japanese (although there’s plenty of both in both). So much meaning in Japanese rides on the social context and the social status of the speaker relative to the setting and to the audience. 

Consider all the consternation that occurs in romances about whether to attach an honorific to a name. Or to address someone using a first or a last name. And when it comes to expletives, the same exact word can be translated quite differently depending on whether a child or adult is speaking and who they are speaking to and whether honorifics are involved. 

5. Is another Edogawa translation coming? 

For now, I’m working on Hills of Silver Ruins, a Pitch Black Moon. At over 1600 pages, it’s going to take a while. I may return to Edogawa after that. 

Thanks for the interview! Explore The Bronze Devil more here and here 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Bronze Devil: Interview with a Translator, Part II

The Bronze Devil

 2. A great many idioms in The Bronze Devil—as well as the antics of some of the characters—evoke magicians and the circus. Are magicians as popular in Japan as they are in America? Do some magicians get more attention than others? That is, does Japanese culture extol the David Copperfield approach (big elaborate tricks) or the classic stage magician (rabbits out of hats) or the sleight of hand magician (card tricks) or all of them? What about Penn & Teller—or are Penn & Teller a little too ironic/cynical?

I’ve observed that Japanese don’t do the whole “dripping with irony” thing. It’s sand in the gears of a culture that depends so much on going with the flow. So I’d say the Penn & Teller approach is probably a bit too knowing and cynical. I do recall an episode of a police procedural in which the murder victim is a magician who had the audacity to reveal the secrets of other magicians.

Cyril Takayama: Japanese-American
magician: American background
meets cultural Japan. Kate thinks he'd
make a good Fiend in the movies!

In my limited Japanese television-watching experience, I haven’t seen many David Copperfield types. More old-school vaudeville-style magicians. Rabbits out of hats and simple sleight of hand and lots of banter. But the performances always seem to me as more variety show material than the main event.

That said, Edogawa’s stories very often center around elaborate David Copperfield tricks rather than “traditional” crimes. Stage and circus magic acts figure into many of his novels, where the crime is solved by figuring out the trick, not whodunit. A big part of Doctor Magic (1956), for example, consists of Edogawa explaining several stage magic and circus acts. I was familiar with the “tricks.” Though his readers probably were not.

Cyril Takayama reminds me of a certain personality type you see a lot on NHK World. The foreign hosts (varying in Japanese extraction from zero to one hundred percent) walk that fine line between being extroverted enough to attract a crowd and stand out in it but not so much that they become intimidating. It's the art of being comfortably foreign. If you can master it, it's a good gig to have.

Friday, September 4, 2020

New Edogawa Translation: Interview with a Translator, Part I

The Bronze Devil by Ranpo Edogawa, translated by Eugene Woodbury, is now gearing into action!

In longstanding tradition, Interview with a Translator returns:

1. As you mention in the introduction to The Bronze Devil, there are multiple clues in the novel that the events are taking place post-war (despite no direct references to the Occupation)—from the empty lots to the orphaned children to the backstory of some characters. What was Edogawa’s opinion of World War II? The Bronze Devil has a youthful, energetic, and optimistic feel. Is that attitude exclusive to Edogawa? In any way reflective of a general attitude at the time?

I haven’t studied Edogawa enough to know what he thought about the war itself. One of his stories was banned by government censors but he remained active in his local neighborhood organization (he wasn’t a rabble rouser). He mostly wrote under a pseudonym during the war years and set aside his franchise Boy Detectives Club and Detective Akechi series. He was obviously taking a wait-and-see attitude.

The years immediately following the war were hard ones. The economy had literally burned to the ground. The “Reverse Course” starting in 1947 put the idealistic objectives of the Occupation on hold and focused on the economy. This included fiscal austerity measures to counter skyrocketing inflation. The effects were brutal in the short term but laid the foundation for Japan’s future economic growth.

In 1948, Japanese voters rejected plans to continue down the planned economy route—inspired by socialist-leaning New Deal bureaucrats in the Occupation—and voted in a slate of free-market economic conservatives, who have pretty much remained in power ever since. By the end of the decade, Japan’s economy had returned positive growth, even before the outbreak of the Korean War gave it a huge boost.

So in 1949, the year The Bronze Devil was published, things were looking up. This change in attitude is reflected in the “Showa drama” genre. The Showa drama takes place during the reign of Emperor Hirohito (1926-1989), with a focus on the post-war years. I am a big sucker for feel-good Showa dramas, in which the upward arc of the story parallels the economic recovery of Japan after WWII.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Passive Heroines: Pamela

Pamela by Samuel Richardson contains a great passive heroine/narrator.

Even at the time of publication, critics argued that Richardson's heroine was too passive. Why didn't she simply remove herself from Mr. B's house? (The critics weren't upset about her staying for feminist reasons; they were upset because Pamela didn't behave like a "good" servant.)

However, what even critics like Fielding failed to appreciate was how limited Pamela's options truly were. In the eighteenth century, female servants were supposed to be servile and impoverished or sluts (and impoverished).

Pamela doesn't want to be servile, impoverished, or a slut. Her constant calculation of expenses and belongings isn't manipulative; it is about survival. After all, this is the age of no credit cards, no welfare, and no sexual harassment laws where debts could land a person in jail.

But the thing that makes Pamela great is not the heroine's lack of options. Her lack of options is a given. What makes Pamela great is the heroine's wit and willingness to defend what she perceives as her core personality.

One of the difficulties with the book Pamela is how much of the wit is lost in the lecturing. But Richardson was a truly masterful writer. However much he loves to preach, he can't keep Pamela's character from creeping through--and what creeps through is consistent. Behind all the verbiage is a powerful voice that will not be shut up, NOT because Pamela is particularly aggressive (although she is far more assertive than she paints herself) but because her voice comes across as genuine and presents an intelligent, interesting, and passionately held point-of-view.

The genuineness of the voice, to me, is what makes the difference between good passive heroine fiction and bad passive heroine fiction. It isn't about telling people off (which too many romance writers, unfortunately, assume). It's about letting the reader into the heroine's head, letting the heroine speak, letting us see her internal conflicts. And if she is witty about it--all the better.

Here is a list of novels where the heroine, is unable to control her circumstances due to conditions and/or personality (i.e. for part of the book, she is a victim), yet still manages to endear herself to the reader and make a life for herself:

Celine by Brock Cole
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Wyrms by Orson Scott Card
Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Deerskin by Robin McKinley
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale