Monday, January 25, 2010

Book 6: Murder On The Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Melody turned a corner of our apartment into a reading nook yesterday afternoon, something I could never have envisioned, and the sight of it made me think of my father and I burst into tears.

Books were more than books in my house. Our religious life was loosely connected to the local Catholic church, Sunday school, Sunday morning service, but the Bible talk was relegated to that day. The remaining six days were a continual service in the Church of Literature.

The first time Melody ever came on vacation with us to Cape Cod she remarked that there were frequent times when we were all sitting and reading. Separately but together. Silent vacation! The funny thing is, that in our minds it's like a big conversation we are all having, through the various books we are reading. But in reality there are six people with their heads buried in six different books.

My dad didn't hold forth on the topic of literature or impose books on us and then discuss. No. He followed his own interests and assumed we would do the same. The best form of laissez-faire parenting. So when I was twelve or so and started devouring every single Agatha Christie book I could find he accepted it as a matter of course. He didn't say, 'Well, before you read Christie you should read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle' or 'What about the Hardy boys?'

I think I preferred Hercule Poirot to Miss Marple then, something I'm not as certain of now. Miss Marple and her cases usually seemed contingent on some small-town sense of gossip and human nature while Poirot was usually in some exotic locale and forced to view some question through a foreign lens in order to solve it.

In 'Murder On The Orient Express' I remember being enthralled with the opulence and other worldliness of train travel in the 1930's. It seemed like a different planet to me and one that I longed to live in. Trim suits, turned down brims of fedoras, cigarette cases, porters and bellhops, cocktails and intrigue.

The cases didn't mean that much to me, who did it, why, etc. What I really lost myself in was the description of the world that these people lived in, and this is where Christie shows her true genius. If you needed to know what life was really like in those times, her novels are time capsules. The particulars of each case usually hinge on specific real life details, things that reveal clear-as-a-bell quotidian patterns.

At this time I had no notion of becoming an actor. I wanted to play sports for a living, preferably for one of the Boston teams. If I really had to I would become a professional athlete for another city but I would always long to play for my hometown heroes.

But the novels of Agatha Christie sparked some connection, some wish to be transported elsewhere, to embody something different. I could see myself with a potbelly and a razor sharp curlicue mustache, pulling a watch fob out of my high-waisted pants to clock some crucial moment in time. I imagined myself as the murderer, seething as I sat and listened to this little Belgian describe with excruciating exactitude how I'd ALMOST gotten away with it.

What did my father think of Agatha Christie? I have no idea. He read mystery novels, but only mystery novels that took place in Boston or Ireland. Agatha Christie was my choice. He let me be twelve.

I'm trying to make the same mistake with my son.


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