Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nancy Martin

Nancy Martin, winner of the Lifetime Achievement award for mystery writing from RT Book Reviews, is the author of Foxy Roxy (originally published as Our Lady of Immaculate Deception) and the bestselling Blackbird Sisters mysteries. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Martin's new novel is Sticky Fingers.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Like many writers, I often read two books at once. This winter, I read Fannie Flagg’s I Still Dream About You while also plugging through Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Both books held me fast, and I soon realized they were both telling the same kind of story—although in very different ways.

I have spent the winter mulling over the best and worst qualities of what we might call an “epic” story—a grand, sprawling tale that attempts to define and illuminate a time and place. The Great American Novel is one, surely, that attempts to showcase America through the eyes of finely drawn characters who exemplify some noteworthy qualities in our national persona. (Definition is mine, so feel free to argue with me!)

The voice of Freedom is sure and clear—not exactly witty, but intelligent, and a distinctly—in my view—male perspective. The female characters all seemed to exist to serve the male characters, but perhaps that perception is a weakness of mine. (We are told over and over that Patty is smart as well as beautiful, but she makes one self-serving blunder after another.) I felt the author’s self indulgence in the rock star character who had it all—too much intelligence, sex appeal, and insight to be believable. Politics—including the sexual kind—as well as avarice, ambition and happiness are explored along with a flailing look at mountaintop mining. It’s all impressive, of course. But—perhaps because I live now in Pittsburgh, but spent a year on a West Virginia mountaintop—I felt a sting of the author’s disdain for anyone who lives west of the Delaware.

Fannie Flagg’s novel—told primarily from the point of view of a former Miss Alabama—is lighter and funnier, but no less ambitious in examining daunting issues. She explores the race riots in Birmingham, the rise and fall of the steel industry, and the push of commercial real estate that despoils communities. It’s all done with a much lighter tone, but perhaps that’s a wise move? She allows the reader to draw conclusions. Her male characters are all on the page to serve the female ones, however. And perhaps her characters are too glib, too funny, too saccharin? Miss Alabama listens to Rosemary Clooney and laments the loss of civility among business associates—a bow to the reading demographic the author is clearly courting--but the character spends the book contemplating suicide in no uncertain terms. The story is a balance of light and weighty.

I find myself wanting to talk to other readers about both books.—Surely that’s one sign they both deserve “epic” status?
Visit Nancy Martin's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Our Lady of Immaculate Deception.

The Page 69 Test: Sticky Fingers.

--Marshal Zeringue