Girl at Home

So here it is Friday at last, and the first full week of 2021 is coming, mercifully, to a close. It has been a rollercoaster of a week (2020, perhaps, giving us one last taste of her horrors? I certainly hope it wasn’t 2021 laughing and saying, “hold my beer, bitches.”) It has been an emotionally and intellectually exhausting week, a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows and horrors, and one that I am frankly not in the least bit sorry to come to its inevitable end–kind of like 2020.

I also don’t believe the domestic terrorism threat is over, but then I inevitably start from a place of complete distrust to begin with when it comes to my fellow Americans, particularly those who historically come from a place of hate for anyone slightly different and have always been intolerant of anyone and everything that doesn’t conform to their small, incredibly narrow worldview.

Or, to be more succinct, you really can’t fix trash.

I am working from home again today, which is kind of nice. I did so yesterday as well–was able to watch a great, if problematic, movie yesterday–and have a lot to do around my job. Dishes, laundry, bed linens…all need to be taken care of today, and of course there are always more condoms to pack. This weekend I am going to have to make groceries–despite saying farewell forever to Rouse’s, as the co-owner of the company and the former HR director proudly posted pictures of themselves at the anti-democratic treasonous insurrection the other day, so the Rouse family will never see another cent from this household–and so now, with Breaux Mart on Magazine’s owner also outing himself as a traitor who supports treason against the democracy, I will be exploring other grocery options–the Winn-Dixie on Tchoupitoulas, the Fresh Market on St. Charles, the Robert’s at Elysian Fields and St. Claude–and there are others as well. It’s truly sad–I was a loyal Rouse’s customer ever since they came to New Orleans, and I was happy to support a local, Louisiana led company–but sorry, the very thought that any money I worked hard for and paid taxes on going to support the traitorous actions of the company co-owner makes me sick to my stomach. So, I will never pass through their doors again. I don’t know how many other New Orleanians agree with me, but as the city went 84% for Biden and we are probably the biggest market the company is in–yeah, dramatic miscalculation on the traitor’s part, but then if he were truly intelligent, he wouldn’t be a traitor and would see through the con man he’s been throwing money at since at least 2015. Eat a bag of dicks, you treasonous trash.

And the next person who tells me we need to reach out to Trump supporters will get a wad of spittle in their face. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists, period. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley? Good luck washing this stench off, because the phantom odor will follow your treasonous asses for the rest of your lives and you will never be president, ever, no matter how much you backpedal now. The picture of Hawley holding up a fist in solidarity with traitors and criminals against the state will never ever go away–at least not as long as there is breath in my body.

I need to get to work on writing this weekend, which has been pretty much impossible since the terrorist attack on the Capitol. But I read a wonderful Facebook post yesterday by the amazing Donna Andrews, whose books I love and is also one of my favorite people of all time, about getting back to her writing after 9/11, on 9/12, to be precise, and she was right. As artists, we have to create, even as the world burns around us; and while I dislike calling myself an “artist” (I’ve always seen that as pretentious), in this instance I will allow it without protest; and crime writers in particular have a duty to continue examining society and its problems through the lens of our characters, our voices, and and our work. Hopefully tonight, when I am home from the gym and have finished my work for the day, I am going to be able to sit down and work on my story for the MWA anthology, the blog post I promised to write, and start reading the manuscript for #shedeservedit, so I can get some work done on it this weekend. Things have also been piling up in my email inbox, and I need to get organized if I have any hope of staying on top of everything I need to get done. At least I made my doctor’s appointment for next week, so I can get going on a goal for the year–taking better care of myself and taking full advantage of my insurance.

The film I watched yesterday was L. A. Confidential, and what a great film it was indeed. Set in 1950’s Los Angeles, and based on the novel by MWA Grand Master James Ellroy, it’s a dark story of ambition and murder and corruption within the Los Angeles Police Department of the time–so in a way it counts as research for Chlorine-a time where cops could easily get swayed by the press; when beating confessions out of suspects and planting evidence were de regeur for a day’s work; and the prevalence of racism in an entirely white police force was the norm, not the exception. (And really, given the last few years, can anyone really assert that they are different now?) The performances were excellent, although it was hard to watch Kevin Spacey without thinking rapist–and the irony that the other two stars of the film (Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce) got their start in queer-centered films, playing gay men (The Sum of Us for Crowe and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for Pearce) going on to play incredibly butch, ambitious tough guy cops is rather sublime. had it not been released in the same year as Titanic it probably would have been a big winner at the Oscars. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did, to be honest. I’ve never been a huge fan of Ellroy–too much casual homophobia and racism in his work–but I have always wanted to try him again (I’ve only read Clandestine, which I do want to read again) because I do appreciate his unique writing style and the depth and density of layers in his novels. (another thing I want to do this weekend is actually read for pleasure; it’s been a hot minute)

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader–you and I truly deserve one.


Mean

When I was a child and lived on the south side of Chicago, elementary school was dismissed every day at 3:15 pm. It took about ten minutes for my sister and I to walk the block home, meaning we usually could just catch the last minutes and closing credits of Dark Shadows every day. This was disappointing, of course, because we loved the show and tried to keep up with it; the older woman down the street with whom our mother left us every morning on her way to catch the bus for her shift spooling wire at an electronics factory in Cicero and fed us both breakfast and lunch also watched, and would tell us the following morning what was going on in Collinwood (she also got us to watch One Life to Live and General Hospital with her; but we weren’t as veste in Llanview and Port Charles as we were with the haunted Collins family).

But at three thirty every day one of the affiliate networks in Chicago showed reruns of old movies, and we generally watched the movie–we weren’t allowed outside unless our mother was home–and she usually got home around four. My grandmother had already given me a taste for old movies and mysteries, so watching the afternoon movie wasn’t a hardship for me, and it kept my sister and I quiet while Mom made dinner and did whatever housewifely and motherly chores she had to take care of before Dad came home.

It was watching those afternoon movies where I first encountered The Bad Seed.

Later that summer, when Mrs Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep that she knew there was no way out, no solution whatever for the circumstances that encompassed her, it seemed to her that June seventh, the day of the Fern Grammar School picnic, was the day of her last happiness, for never since then had she known contentment or felt peace.

The picnic was an annual, traditional affair held on the beach, an among the oaks, of Benedict, the old Fern summer place at Pelican Bay. It was here that the impeccable Fern sisters had been born and had lived through their languid, eventless summers. They had refused to sell the old place, and had kept it up faithfully as a gesture of love even when necessity made them turn their town house into a school for the children of their friends. The picnic was always held on the first Saturday of June since the eldest of the three sisters, Miss Octavia, was convinced, despite the occasions on which it had rained that particular day, and the picnic had to be held inside, after all, that the first Saturday of June was invariably a fine one.

If The Bad Seed has lost its ability to shock and horrify, it’s because in the decades since it was published (and adapted into both a play and film) the notion of a child being a killer has gone from being shocking to the general public to one that is kind of accepted; children do kill, and despite all the societal push towards sentimentality toward children. Rhoda is a sociopath, if not a psychopath; her inability to feel remorse or empathy or any other kind of human emotion is chilling to read about–she’s a stone cold killer, and clearly, she thinks nothing of killing to get something she wants: whether it’s the penmanship medal from her school, or a nice trinket promised to her, and then to shut up the janitor who sees through her and threatens to expose her; there’s a progression there. First she kills on impulse to get something she wants, then she coldly and calculatedly kills to protect herself. Rhoda is maturing as a killer, which is very chilling for the reader. The book is told entirely from the point of view of Rhoda’s mother, Christine–who is very slowly coming to realize, time after time, that her child is a monster, despite the innocence of childhood and everything we are taught to think, sentimentally, about children.

Psychology was starting to come into its own in the United States during the 1950’s, and you can see how crime writers took to psychology in that decade: The Bad Seed asks the question of nature v. nurture (although its answer is that it’s nature, genetic, and cannot be helped–and there’s some truth to that. I’m not entirely sure that sociopathy or psychopathy is learned behavior; are these cold-blooded killers born that way or are they creations of their environment? The solution Mrs. Penmark comes up with and executes in the novel is dramatically different from the film–the film had to abide by the Production Code, whereas novels had no such restrictions on them–and I believe the book’s ending actually works better than the film’s.

One thing that the book does brilliantly is depict the emotional turmoil and distress of the mother, slowly beginning to suspect and find proof that her child, that she loves so dearly, is actually a monster.

I first read this book when I was a teenager; I’d already seen the movie when I discovered the book on the shelves at the library, and so I checked it out and read it. I enjoyed it tremendously at the time–and it also had me watching other teens and young children for signs of sociopathy for a few years–and so thought it might be worth a revisit. It was, most definitely; it’s a bit dated, and of course the notion of a killer child isn’t quite so shocking as it was back during the Eisenhower administration–we’ve seen too many real life examples of this, and of course the trope of the killer child has been used, over and over again, in crime fiction and in films, so it’s not the brace of cold water in the face that it once was (kind of like how Beast in View by Margaret Millar was groundbreaking in its time–its still a great read–but what Millar did in that novel has been copied and imitated so much that it’s almost a cliche; one has to read these books with those sort of things in mind). Agatha Christie also used the trope of the sociopathic child (although in a quick google search it turns out Christie’s sociopathic child killer predated The Bad Seed; honestly, Christie did everything first).

It was a very pleasant reread, and as always, it’s interesting to visit (or revisit) books that were considered shocking in their time, only to have them turn out to be fairly tame–I’m looking at you, both Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls–as well as to see how far the crime fiction genre has progressed. (I still consider Peyton Place to have a place in crime fiction, even though most people don’t. And while the crimes in the book may not be the driving point of the story, those crimes do impact everyone in the town in some way….there’s another essay to be written, probably after I reread the book at some point. It’s been awhile since I’ve revisited both Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls….perhaps that can be my Christmas present to myself.