Friday, October 8, 2010

A Right to Die

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of A Right to Die (Viking, 1964).

You know, it took me a month of Sundays, but I finally found a Nero Wolfe novel that I just plain did not enjoy very much. There was definitely a suspension of disbelief issue with A Right to Die that I couldn't overcome. This is the book which quite unambiguously states that the novels and stories take place in real time, as it returns to the events of Too Many Cooks, written some twenty-six years previously, and reintroduces a supporting character from that book. He has aged 26 years and has an adult son who's now in trouble. For this to be true, Wolfe and the rest of the cast must also have aged, meaning that perenially mid-thirties gadfly Archie must now be on the AARP's contact list, yet they haven't.

Interestingly - well, to me, anyway - I sketch out what a notional proper TV series adaptation of all the Wolfe canon, in order, would look like, and Too Many Cooks, with its deeply dated view of race in the 1930s, was one that I would consider dropping from modern teevee. (A key point involves blackface, which certainly could not be done on television today!) Since A Right to Die calls back to it and puts the canon into some level of confusion, I'd be in favor of dropping both of them.

On the other hand, this does provide some amusements as Archie goes out into the field to find out what's there to dislike in a background check done as "an obligation" for their acquaintance from the earlier novel. He travels, separately, to Racine, Wisconsin and to Evansville, Indiana, two places that Wolfe knows nothing whatever about. I won't claim that the novel really goes into detail about life in either city in the early sixties, but there are tantalizing glimpses of contemporary life in the period. Just the way that Archie can take a phone call at 7.30 in the morning in Racine ordering him home on a change of plans, and then assure Wolfe that he'll be home around 1, and then go back to sleep, is fascinating. The very idea that people in the sixties could just drive to Chicago and hop a flight back to Idlewild with the same ease as hailing a cab is lovely. I like my toys and my cell phones, but we certainly gave up some freedom along the last fifty years, didn't we?

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