When the Stars Go Dark (WTSGD) by Paula McLain is a book that demonstrates how susceptible I am to "must read" lists.
(HIGHLY. I am highly susceptible.)
Despite this profound and frequent influence, I never document the trail that leads me from one place to another. Was WTSGD on some NYTimes compilation? If not there, it was probably Refinery 29 or Vulture. Maybe Bookriot or Lit Hub? Someone, somewhere suggested I read this—a stranger paid to do so—and I agreed with them.
It is also a book that speaks to my nostalgia for the 90'S.
In part, this makes sense. I majored in history. I have spent years in analysis thinking about my childhood. Second chance romances are my favorite—reliving the past in the present!
In part, it does not.
In 1993, I was a freshman in high school. I had just moved from one parent in one state to the other parent in a different state. I had no friends, played basketball poorly but not so poorly that I didn't make JV, and had significant acne. There is no reason for me to be nostalgic about the early 90's. No matter, give me a book about that time period and I basically rub it against my chest and swoon in longing.
Don't talk to me about technology and advances and blah blah. I refuse to believe that I spend over 9 hours a day on my cellular phone (despite that pesky monitoring device telling me that I do)! I don't post on Facebook or Instagram or TikTok or Twitter (but I do have accounts on all of them)! I'm not capable of remembering a sequence of 7 digits or using the yellow pages but ask me about the "good ole days" and I may tell you it was 1993 and cordless phones.
In 1993, I wasn't yet reading hard boiled female protagonist investigator types but that day wasn't too far away. Piled on top of my historical romances, I would come to idolize Carlotta (Linda Barnes) & Kinsey (Sue Grafton) & Jane (Thomas Perry). Tough women with tough jobs in tough cities were my catnip. These women gave me hope. I lived in a white midwestern suburban nightmare and so desperately wanted to be anyone else, anywhere else. (Carlotta Carlyle is at least 15% responsible for my 2,5 year stint in Boston).
So give me a literary* thriller/suspense, set in the early 1990's, with a female detectiveº and throw in some beautiful language (WTSGD was written by a poet afterall) and we've got an almost guaranteed love affair.
I read WTSGD in a day. I reread the first chapters the next day, because I loved the language so much. The experience of reading this book was entrancing and everything I want in a book. Until part 2.
In writing classes (or in movies about writers) you are taught to kill your darlings. If you can take it out and the story survives, it is unnecessary. No matter how much you love it. I found a few subplots and characters in part 2 and 3 to be distractions, not additions.
But who am I to judge the frivolous darlings in WTSGD that take up space and didn't interest me? Our lives—past and present—are littered with darlings. Often it's not a question of whether or not it makes the most sense, of mechanical reason and technical execution. Our darlings are an emotional pull that defies explanation. It's a part of what animates and motivates us, and in the case of writing/art the creator is not separable from the creation.
Like Frankenstein. A book I'd like to read, despite not being on any list I've seen recently.
*literary thriller/suspense as defined as a plot with some element of tension/conflict that needs to be resolved, with "deep themes, emotional resonance, and intellectual provocation" (see comments)
ºI prefer private investigators to cops, given that I'm an abolitionist feminist
¨reiterating that I continue in denial about myself and being the type of person who spends so many hours per day on a smartphone