Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Traveling in Arkin's Country of the Blind

Matt Arkin showed me his...I showed him mine!
His is In The Country of the Blind...mine is Not Your Mother's Book...On Travel.

One benefit of tramping around the world for the past several decades...I've learned what places I'd never return to, given free will, and those I want to visit again and again. The same goes for books that celebrate geographical settings.

Charles Dickens plunged me into the streets of Victorian London...and I've trotted back there time and again. Raymond Chandler did the same for me in my hometown, Los Angeles. Now Matt Arkin has me itching to revisit New York City.

In  In the Country of the Blind, Arkin introduces a Phillip Marlowe-like knight, Zach Brandis, who haunts the seamy side of NYC, as well as its upscale bistros, in search of answers on how to help damsels...and dudes, distress. I'm hooked. I can't wait for the second novel in this new series. 

My son and daughter-in-law, Steve and Mari Lou Elders, regularly attend plays at South Coast Repertory and had seen Matt Arkin (son of Oscar-winning Alan and brother of actor Adam) in several productions. So when they saw a blind auction item at a fundraiser for the Chance Theater, a lunch date with Arkin, they bid...and won. At that lunch, Mari Lou invited him to come to a writing class she has taught for several years, to discuss self publishing and read from his debut novel, In the Country of the Blind. 

Steve emailed me Sunday with this news and an invitation to attend. I downloaded the book on my Kindle, and was up past midnight on Monday night, finishing the last chapters. It's a page turner, but much, much more. This character-driven quest features a protagonist, Zach Brandis, a self-described "recovering attorney" turned building super. Zach's inner North Star, it turns out, revolves around an unwavering view of justice, equity and responsibility for one's fellow creatures. The social work profession shares this value system of social justice, which perhaps explains why I, a licensed clinical social worker, so intensely identified with Zach's motives for wanting to get involved in righting what he views as wrongs. And he does. When Zach learns that nobody is much interested in the death of the roommate of Cynthia Hull, a woman he's interested in, and the police seems to think he and Cynthia might have "cleaned up the scene," he sets out to piece together the puzzle.

An ardent fan of serial mystery novels since his youth, Arkin told the writing group that he got hooked early on John D. McDonald's Travis McGee novels. In the sixties and seventies I doted on this series, featuring a hero who is neither a cop nor a private investigator, but rather a "salvage consultant." Similarly, Brandis, like McGee, has managed to find a way to live that doesn't depend on a salary. This frees him from bondage to established institutional loyalties. And like Chandler's Marlowe, Brandis remains morally upright, reflective and philosophical throughout threatening and sometimes outright dangerous encounters.

In naming his hero, Arkin did some research and learned that Brandis meant "burnt field." I did a Google search and found that people named Brandis allegedly are thought to be passionate, compassionate, intuitive, romantic, and to have magnetic personalities. This all rings true with Zach...a perfect choice for a moniker that would have left Henry James, the master namer, proud.

Arkin asked the group who they would cast as Zach in a TV or film production. Though he'd love to play the role himself, he's in his mid-fifties, and Zach is about 35. He confessed his choice would be Josh Radner, who played Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother. But Arkin has his doubts. "Only one book ever was made into a movie where they got it all right...To Kill a Mockingbird." There's another modern-day knight, Atticus Finch. No wonder Arkin bestowed "Atticus" as a middle name for one of his sons.

Some in the writing group felt Arkin devoted too much detail to NYC, identifying actual landmarks that they had little interest in. On the contrary, the city became vibrant for me, so I long to revisit it and seek out the physical sites, just as I did on my Road Scholar trip to England for the Dickens Bicentennial. I suspect I'll be revisiting NYC soon.

Here's the link to where you can order In the Country of the Blind:

And because I love to tag along for the ride, here's where you can order my NYMB...On Travel.

Arkin reading Chapter 1 at Mari Lou's Orange writing group

No comments:

Post a Comment