Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Seven literary mysteries that embrace moral unease

Stacey D’Erasmo is the author of five novels and one book of nonfiction. Her first novel, Tea, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. Her second novel, A Seahorse Year, was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsday and won both a Lambda Literary Award and a Ferro-Grumley Award. Her third novel, The Sky Below, was a favorite book of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun Times, and the New York Times. Her fourth novel, Wonderland, was named one of the ten best books of the year by Time and the BBC, also among NPR’s best books of 2014. Her nonfiction book The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between was published in 2013.

D’Erasmo's new novel is The Complicities.

At CrimeReads she tagged seven favorite literary mysteries that embrace the gray areas. One novel on the list:
The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

Greene loved a tangled geopolitical thriller, but perhaps never more so than in this 1955 novel, which has made readers uncomfortable from the moment it was published. First-person narrator Thomas Fowler, a seasoned British journalist, meets up with young CIA operative Alden Pyle in 1950s Vietnam. Fowler is also involved with a younger Vietnamese woman named Phuong, who becomes involved with Pyle as well. Pyle, fully believing he knows best for Vietnam, wreaks incredible damage in all directions, but Fowler, our appalled narrator, might not be much better in the end in his attempts to curtail Pyle. Phuong deserves a novel of her own, as she is more or less just a point in what becomes a love triangle; one wonders what she might say or do, given a chance. Meanwhile, America and Britain blunder around, making some of their worst decisions on the basis of what they think of as their highest principles. The novel has been adapted for film twice, once in 1958 (when, to Greene’s horror, it was turned into an anti-communism thriller with Pyle as American hero) and once in 2002. The second version actually first premiered on September 10th, 2001, but Miramax pulled it after September 11th, fearing it would be seen as unpatriotic. Michael Caine plays Fowler in the 2002 film—that should tell you everything you need to know about the world-weary face of ambiguity here.
Read about another entry on the list.

The Quiet American is among Susan Williams's top ten books on neocolonialism, six books recommended by Joseph Kanon, Pete Buttigieg’s ten favorite books, Cat Barton's five top titles on Southeast Asian travel literature, Richard Haass's six top books for understanding global politics, Sara Jonsson's seven best literary treatments of envy, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's top ten classic spy novels, Tom Rachman's top ten journalist's tales, John Mullan's ten best journalists in literature, Charles Glass's five best books on Americans abroad, Robert McCrum's books to inspire busy public figures, Malcolm Pryce's top ten expatriate tales, Catherine Sampson's top ten Asian crime fiction, and Pauline Melville's top 10 revolutionary tales.

--Marshal Zeringue