On New Year's Eve Leslie and Harry were working furiously on an impossibly difficult jigsaw puzzle featuring dogs. All of us tried our hand at inserting a piece or two.I approached it in a desultory way knowing if I became overly involved, I'd want to complete the puzzle.We left with the puzzle undone.Harry stayed up that night until he completed it. I could have done that, too.
Instead, I often stay up far too late reading murder mysteries or detective novels. I read a lot of "serious" fiction and non-fiction, but, at least once a week, I feel the urge to read a detective novel.This week in the midst of reading Elena Ferrante's masterpiece, My Brilliant Friend, I picked up Jon Talton's Dry Heat.
Like a satisfying jigsaw puzzle, it had all the requisite pieces scattered throughout the book.All the possible suspects made their appearance in the first chapters and the crimes spilled onto the page early.The detective and his wife's perfect relationship meant he had an Achilles heel and the bad guys would shoot their arrows right into the weak spot. As a veteran detective novel reader, I know that when there is more than one crime, somehow they will link up.Of course, by the last page, the puzzle is completed.A reader like me feels smug about having sussed out the link between the crime spree and having guessed who among the characters were the culprits before the big reveal.
I also admit to relaxing with TV shows that have a similar format—"Law & Order" is my favorite. Apparently, I'm not the only one since the show first aired in 1990. How many of us after hundreds of episodes feel we could write the script? In this show, too, no threads are left hanging.No superfluous characters crowd the TV screen. Every moment leads inexorably to nabbing the right suspect (usual the second one) and cheering when the court metes out his just desserts.
Non-fiction presents a different scenario.It's as if all the jigsaw puzzle pieces from dozens of puzzles are arrayed before you. How do you begin to make sense of it?
When Leslie and I began to write Jewish Luck, I had a tendency to want to organize those pieces one puzzle at a time and toss out the pieces that didn't fit in. Slowly, I realized the puzzle analogy failed.
Life is messy. Loose ends abound and the writer can't force a pattern onto her subject. Writing and rewriting Vera and Alla's stories for three years taught me to listen to the stories and how Vera and Alla told their story before I tried to shape it to fit a pattern I'd already devised in my mind. We had to let their stories surface, write them, and then allow the narratives to shape itself.
One of the hardest decisions Leslie and I had to make was where to end the book.Vera and Alla are very much alive and still living full lives.We had to end the book before their stories are over.There wouldn't be an ending that drew together all the people and events of Vera and Alla's lives.
WE can update you, our readers, and let you admit we would not have predicted all the twists and turns Alla's and Vera's lives have taken since we wrote the last chapter of Jewish Luck. One ritual has remained constant for Vera and Alla--celebrating the new year together. This year they toasted the arrival of 2016 in Vera and Alexei's apartment in Tel Aviv. They continue to shape their stories as they live their lives to the fullest.