Thursday, August 29, 2019

"Relative Fortunes"

Born near Boston, Marlowe Benn grew up in an Illinois college town along the Mississippi River. She holds a master’s degree in the book arts from the University of Alabama and a doctorate in the history of books from the University of California, Berkeley. A former editor, college teacher, and letterpress printer, Benn lives with her husband on an island near Seattle.

Benn applied the Page 69 Test to Relative Fortunes, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Relative Fortunes finds my protagonist, Julia Kydd, negotiating a tricky lunch conversation with the trustee of her estate, her older half-brother, Philip. They’ve just come from a rancorous legal meeting in which Philip, whom she barely knows, has challenged her imminent inheritance. She finds his droll, quixotic manner hard to read, but the threat he poses to her financial independence is very serious.

On this page they are pestered by real-life Willard Huntington Wright, author of a wildly popular mystery series in the 1920s and 30s published under the pseudonym of S. S. Van Dine. The books feature a sleuth named Philo Vance, a brilliant but insufferable character who—in my novel—Wright wishes to model on Philip.

A dissipated misanthrope, Wright is cynically determined to exploit the popular appetite for detective fiction, hoping only to earn boatloads of cash. Philip resists Wright’s plan, dismissing it as “sleuthing twaddle.” This minor subplot is my bit of meta-textual fun: one work of fiction tugging on the sleeve of another.

Their spat allows Julia to reflect on the nature of sleuthing, as she’s recently agreed to help her friend Glennis investigate the apparent suicide of her older sister, the radical suffragist Naomi Rankin.
...Julia shared [Philip’s] irritation with the term, shouted nowadays by cheap magazines everywhere to sell cheap novels. She didn’t particularly care if Wright’s literary aspirations poached upon Philip’s so-called deductive exploits, but she did agree that—for those bored with séances and scavenger hunts—“sleuthing” reduced to a game the serious work that she and Glennis had solemnly resolved to do. Their investigation might not involve theft or murder (Glennis’s hyperbole aside) or even probably the law, but it was nothing to joke at. Naomi Rankin deserved, if not justice, at least for the truth of her fate to be known.
My sentiments exactly.
Visit Marlowe Benn's website.

My Book, The Movie: Relative Fortunes.

--Marshal Zeringue