Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fire Sale

Fire Sale by Sara Paretsky

VI Warshawski gets a call from her high school basketball coach asking her to take over for her. It's a volunteer position with no support from the school. It is one small way to keep the girls off the streets, giving them a sense of belonging and accomplishment and give some a chance to go to college that they might not otherwise have. However, without any support from the school, any funding for supplies or uniforms, V.I. will have to beg for on her own. Vic's childhood neighborhood,South Chicago has seen better days. It's gone from a working town to a neighborhood that is plagued by unemployment and poverty.
V.I. is still with her lover, Morrell. He's currently recuperating from injuries he sustained as a reporter in the Middle East. His long time friend and fellow journalist, Marcena Love, is staying with him and that causes much tension for everyone. Marcena and V.I. butt heads, a lot due to their being two sides of the same coin, as they say. Morrell seems to be a man of few words. I don't think he has 10 lines in the whole book. V.I.'s boyfriends are really just on the fringe of her life. Basically, I think they are mostly just around to drive her home from the hospital when she gets all banged up.

One of V.I.'s girl ballers asks her to go and speak to her mother about problems at her job. V.I. winds up involved with a troubled local business, the local pastor and the Bysen family of a major discount department store chain, Buy Smart. There are many trials, tribulations, crimes and criminals. V.I. takes more shots than a professional boxer. She winds up in the emergency room a lot. No one has any problem letting her have it. Everybody wants a piece of her. People shoot her, hit her, run her down, blow her up, or say pretty vile things. She is always banged and bruised to the point that you wonder just how much more one person can possibly take. I don't think I've ever read a series with a female protagonist like V.I. Warshawski.

I was really struck by all of the open hostility displayed throughout the text. Everybody is hostile, the girls on the basketball team, V.I. and her high school rivals. Some girl from her high school who has a daughter on the basketball team has never gotten over some prank or slight from high school and she does nothing but name call and make judgments about who VI is. Honestly, how long do you hang on to that crap? Sheesh, get over yourself already. Do actual, rational adults still hold on to childhood and adolescent slights? V.I. and her ex, the police officer, Conrad, also keep the hostility going. I told you there was a lot of it here. V.I. is hostile to anyone who monopolizes Morrell. Every group has a problem with every other group and their is even intragroup hostility running rampant. I'm thinking Paretsky needs to seriously medicate her characters.

My other problem with this book, is really petty, I guess. It's the "word" blunk. There is no blunk. It is not a word, and yet Sara Paretsky uses it three times. It's used to describe eyes rolling back in a head (I told you these people are violent and hostile enough that she feels she can safely invent words for concussion and loss of consciousness symptoms). It was really annoying. Unless, maybe Paretsky wanted the book to be a truly interactive experience and she could engender hostility in her readers as well.

I think that a little warmth and maybe even just a smidge of humor to bring some humanity to these books is in order. I don't need V.I. to take up needlepoint and stitch samplers with life lessons on them. I'd just like to see her as an appealing character. The people in these books are all so bleak and cold and humorless. The sun never shines in Paretsky's Chicago. After a while, even a reader can start to feel worn out, beat up and tired of the bleak, gray landscape.

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