Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Peter Blauner

Peter Blauner's novels include Slow Motion Riot, winner of an Edgar Allan Poe award for best first novel from Mystery Writers of America, and The Intruder, a New York Times bestseller. He began his career as a journalist for New York magazine in the 1980s and segued into writing fiction in the 1990s. His short fiction has been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories and on Selected Shorts from Symphony Space. He has written for several television shows, including Law & Order: SVU and the CBS series, Blue Bloods. His newest novel is Sunrise Highway.

Recently I asked Blauner about what he was reading. His reply:
Whenever somebody asks me what I'm reading, the answer is usually three or four books at the same time, and chances are one of them will be by Tolstoy.

Yeah, I know it sounds pretentious - but that's only if you haven't actually read Tolstoy. He wrote so many things in so many different genres over such a long period of time that most open-minded readers should be able to find something to appreciate. He wrote epics, novellas, philosophy that influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., political tracts, fables, soap operas, psychological studies, children's stories, religious texts, and what seem to the modern eye like dark crime stories. I devoured Anna Karenina a few years ago and then read his short fiction obsessively. But for some reason, I haven't been able to crack War and Peace, his most famous work. Until now.

It's a tough to read these days for a number of reasons. Length is obviously one of them. And the temptation to be distracted with other media. But what I had the hardest time getting past was the "Peace" part. Much of the book, especially in its earliest sections, is about the social world of the Russian aristocracy in the early 19th Century. There are dense detailed accounts of party planning, social etiquette, courtship and the like. I must have started and stopped a half-dozen times, occasionally dilating on the odd incident like an account of soldiers drinking heavily and chaining a police officer to a bear (yes, I had to re-read that one a few times to make sure I'd read it right). It's only in recent months that I've been able to push through to the "War" sequences, which are as riveting as yesterday's dispatches from Syria or Afghanistan. They also put what I'd thought of as the more gossipy and frivolous sections about families and their social world into a deeper and darker context. I'm not quite halfway through, and I'll probably be reading for a while longer, but I get it now. Tolstoy really was that great - not pristine and classic, but raw, messy, and utterly great. Readers who avoid him because he's old, supposedly difficult, and a "white man" are missing out and cheating themselves. This is news that stays news.
Visit Peter Blauner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue