Monday, August 18, 2008

Reader's Diary #385- Dave White: Closure

Short Story Monday

Where was I?

I was on recess duty. It was after about a month of teaching (school starts mid-August in Rankin Inlet) and about two months after I first moved North. My perspective on the world was quickly undergoing a pretty radical shift as it was.

Just after herding the last student through the door to head back to class, another teacher approached me and asked if I'd heard about the airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. I figured it was a single seater, and while unfortunate, didn't think it was all that newsworthy. Then my students headed off to their Inuktitut lessons and I had time to check the news on the Internet...

When I was a child my parents talked about where they were when Kennedy was shot. My sister and I wondered what defining moments we'd have in our lifetimes. I remember where I was when I heard about the deaths of Kurt Cobain and Lady Di, but a part of me wondered if I'd forced the memories, just so when people asked, I'd have an answer.

Remembering the details of September 11th of course didn't need to be forced. It was such a major moment that today, almost 7 years later, people can almost ask "Where were you?" and you know what they mean. Thus begins, Dave White's "Closure."

I didn't set out to read a September 11th story. I set out to read a detective story. I all but neglect mysteries and crime stories and in the interest of keeping well-rounded, searched the Internet for something quick to fill the void. I happened upon White's story, winner of the 2003 Derringer Award for best short story.

While I know there's been a lot already written using September 11th as either a backdrop or a focal point, and while I suspect there's plenty more to come, I've not yet tired off the topic even if the quality of such pieces ranges from sentimental crap to brilliant art. "Closure" is neither.

It is also not much of a mystery-- except for why it won a Derringer.

I appreciated the plot: an Arab-American named Omar hires a private investigator (or is he a bodyguard? I'm not sure) named Jackson Donne to tag along as he is to meet a stranger at Liberty State Park who has offered to sell him information about Omar's wife who'd been in the World Trade Centre when it was attacked. Had she been cheating on him? Did she survive? Was the strangler a hustler? It certainly has the earmarks of a mystery.

But then the story takes a left turn. Instead, a case of racism mixed with mistaken identity leads to a violent tragedy and there is no closure.

Much like the events of September 11th? Could this be White's point? Fine, but the judges for the Derringer Award should note: tis no mystery.

As a story, not a mystery, I appreciated the turn of events. It begins almost cliched, complete with Omar stumbling into Donne's office. I haven't read many mysteries, but even I wondered why everyone "stumbles" into a PI's office. Can they not afford a decent doorstep? Then quickly the promise of a mystery is taken away; another victim of September 11th.

Unfortunately the characters weren't all that engaging. While Omar's race is necessary for the tragedy to unfold at the end, it seems a little forced; a little too Little Mosque on the Prairie (for the Canadians in the audience). Likewise the racist at the end is too one-dimensional, and not given any real depth. As for Donne (after all, "Closure" is billed as a "Jackson Donne mystery") he seems to merely relate events making it hard to get a sense for him as a person. He seemed way too detached and almost insignificant to the plot. When he laments at the end that he is now affected by September 11th, I resented his self-centredness more than feeling any sympathy.

One of my favourite works of art to rise from Ground Zero is David Riebetanz's "Norberto Hernadez: Photographed Falling September Eleventh." Read it here. Do you have any favourites? Books? Songs? Paintings?

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