Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Living in a Novel World

The first thing I noticed while reading Laura Lippman's Butchers Hill was how much I could identify with the surroudings, so much so that I found myself nodding my head at the end of almost every page. I've never before read a work of fiction about a place that I have lived, and I almost wish I didn't know anything about Baltimore so that I could fully experience Lippman's talent for description, not just my own memory of what she describes. I wish I knew how an outsider would read Butchers Hill - how would they imagine Fell's Point, the Domino Sugar sign and Patterson Park? Would it have the same effect on outside readers or is the power of Lippman's description and insight only truly understood by her fellow Baltimoreans?

I was very much intrigued by the passages in which Tess consults her friends for insider information about Destiny, Treasure, Salamon and Eldon. These kids were forgotten for years; to most people, they seemed unremarkable with neither potential nor promise. How easy it was for the investigators to find information about them once Tess showed interest in locating them! Sometimes I feel like everyone suffering in Baltimore is so distant, lost and beyond reach. But Tess demonstrates how simple it is to actually connect with a person once you care to reach out to them. Sure, she was motivated by a paycheck, but she proves that a person once faceless can, in a moment, be a body with a name, a history and an identity. This is interesting to consider when contemplating Baltimore's pressing issues; all that seem lost are really one person after another who can be touched.

At the end of chapter four, Laura introduces the issue of parental responsibility and children who are influenced negatively by their environments. Tull relays Beales' shocking comment: "'He said to this woman, grieving for her only child, 'If you had been a good mother in the first place, Donnie wouldn't have been living in my neighborhood, and he wouldn't be dead now.'" (44). Tess defends Beales by saying that the boy would have been alive if the mother had done her job and kept him from hanging out on the street in the middle of the night. I'm not sure who to agree with, but one thing is for sure: this takes Jane Jacobs idea about the neighborhood watch to an extreme concept. Beales was so concerned about the vandalism that the kids were causing in the neighborhood that he took it upon himself to kill one of them. It makes me wonder how far we should take the neighborhood watch idea and if Jacobs ever considered a situation like this.