If it weren’t for the amount of time I’m going to spend singing the praises of a writer named Thomas H. Cook, I would’ve titled this post: The Failure of Resolution #5. Res. 5 goes something like this: “I will read every book Donald Maass used as an example in The Fire in Fiction.” I made this New Year’s promise before I realized that the Nacogdoches Library has fewer books than Maass used in his how-to. But I’m off to a decent start–I’m in Chapter Seven of Cook’s Red Leaves, the first book Maass mentioned.
I know what you’re thinking: “Linda, Linda, Linda! It’s the end of the month! Surely you could’ve read the first three novels by now.” Yeah, well–have I mentioned lately that I’ve been really busy trying to get my own manuscript Maass worthy?
Maass begins his Fire in Fiction talking about flawed heros and average Joe protagonists, and Cook’s Eric Moore fits the bill for Maass’s average Joe. Eric has a good job, a nice home, a loving wife, and a typical (read, “sullen”) teenage son. He goes to work every day, comes home every evening, grills in the back yard and keeps company with his family and brother. Eric thrives in the rut of his ordinary life.
At first, the only thing that clues you in to the idea his ordinary life is about to be shattered is the fact that Red Leaves is a mystery. Once you’ve read the back cover, the introduction to Part One takes on a whole new tone: “When you remember those times, they return to you in a series of photographs.”
Cook writes the entire intro using second person. “You see Meredith on the day you married her,” “You buy Meredith a ring on your fifteenth anniversary,” “You buy your son a simple, inexpensive bike.”
The feel is that of someone sitting alone, maybe cooling a cup of coffee or swirling the ice in a glass emptied of its Scotch, desperately trying to figure out what went wrong. Cook’s use of “you” emphasizes Eric’s ordinariness while indicating that what is about to follow could’ve happened to anyone–even “you.”
The tone reminds me of Holly Golightly looking for her cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s–the scene near the end of the movie, when it’s raining and Holly is crying and calling for Cat, and Fred/Paul is watching her break down. But it’s not the action that Cook’s introduction reminds me of; it’s the music. Strains of “Moon River” played so discordantly, your shoulder blades scrunch against the notes–the musical score that announces: “Something’s very wrong here.”
Maass could’ve used Cook as an example for everything from creating tension in the most mundane scenes to making absolutely every word count (something Brohaugh would applaud). Thomas Cook is a six-time nominee for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and won the Edgar for Best Novel (the Chatham School Affair). The man’s writing is amazing and I can certainly see why Maass chose his book.