Catriona writes: When I was a kid, my whole family used to go out picking brambles (blackberries?) along the old railway line near our house. I loved it - hacking through the undergrowth, filling my bucket with glistening fruit, competing with my sisters to see who could gather most (never me - I was the shortest) and then waiting for my mother to turn them into the most delicious jelly and jam. Good wholesome, thrifty, family fun. Until one time two boys and two girls from my class walked past and saw my dad, in his old clothes, with fern fronds in his hat to keep the midges away. Snap! I went from being part of a big happy family on a jaunt to being a loser who would never be in the in-crowd. It made me cringe for years. Now it makes me cringe that it made me cringe. But I still remember the sharpness of realising I didn't belong.
Today's guest post brought it right back again. I'm delighted to welcome to the Femmes, the wickedly funny San Francisco writer, Susan Shea, who's exploring belonging, not belonging and the damage done in her new novel MIXED UP WITH MURDER later this year. It's the third mystery featuring the smart and gutsy Dani O'Rourke, an art gallery fundraiser in the city, and it's a treat for anyone who loves to dive into a new world in the hands of a writer who knows it inside out (which is everyone, right?) Welcome, Susan!
To be a Femme Fatale even for the day and under the brilliant and charming Catriona’s cloak is a pretty heady experience. It got me thinking about the business of belonging and how the desire for it or the resentment for lack of it fuels so much bad behavior. Of course, thinking about that leads directly to thinking about crime, right?
People, most people anyway, want to be liked, and why not? We’re social animals, we want to be included in the tribe, allowed to get close to the fire on cold nights, and get a share of the mammoth that the hunters brought back. We work hard to show that we fit: We have the clothes and the haircut and eat only organic vegetables. If we’re young, we have more pressure and more hoops to go through in the ritual of passing into the enviable state of Coolness: tats and piercings and music, and slang, and attitude and, and and. For young people, it’s almost endless, and all so you can sit on the section of the low wall outside school that is reserved for the chosen. Adults sometimes figure it out and can walk away healthy. Otherwise it’s alternately depressing, paranoia-inducing, and infuriating, but mostly, if you’re a kid, stressful.
But let’s say you’re extremely rich, and let’s further say you’re not the brightest bulb. Wealth came to you from someone else’s purse and you have managed to piddle large amounts of it away. You’re no more secure than the kids in eighth grade, although you’ve developed a haughty attitude that intimidates some people. But do they like you or just feel they have to suck up to you? When you spout your ideas on, say, world peace, are those serious-looking faces thinking, “A jerk, but if I pretend to be interested, maybe some of that money, or a trip on the private jet, will blow my way.” And, if something you’ve done threatens to make you the butt of a thousand nasty jokes behind your back, and you could stop it from coming out, would you be tempted? *
As you read stories woven by the Femmes, you see ways in which belonging or not drives bad decision-making, building one wrong move upon another until someone arrives at a place where murder seems like the best or only option to handle their problems. Read the newspaper, where you see this played out in white-collar crimes, gang violence, misogynistic cruelty, teenage mayhem.
It’s a depressing topic, and I’m sorry I got off on it. But I have a new Dani O’Rourke novel coming out later this year (MIXED UP WITH MURDER) and like the others, this atavistic desire to belong and fear of being an outcast motivates at least one bad actor in the story. Lest it sound too grim, my novels are considered witty and even laugh out loud funny at times. Foolish people making foolish choices – the human comedy!
* If you are the first person to say which of my previous novels in the series (MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT or THE KING’S JAR) this character comes from, and you post it on Femmes, I will send you a copy of the new book when it comes out later this fall. Don’t say who it is – no spoilers – but make sure we can reach you to arrange the delivery.