Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pressing Language

I always regard Tributary as a poetry blog, even when I write about movies, shopping trips, or what the heck. Maybe I do not know what poetry is and so simply consider my interests as poetic. I will say that poetry, to me, is found language, the amazing condition of discovery. Contradistinguished would be pressed or determined language, in which the writer tries to convince. Prose is not the opposite of poetry.

Keats took Wordsworth to task for trying too hard to capture the reader. Which I agree with. But well, the Muse is not always charmed when poet takes up pen or keyboard. Wordsworth had a few hits, let’s be fair.

Anyway, I am nearly finished with The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo. It is somewhat fictionalized non-fiction. I find it a fascinating, albeit at times alarming, read. I enjoy it, but it shows signs of slackness, death of poetry.

It is a book Beth’s mother finished and handed to me as people do, next in line. I’ve scooted thru most of it today.

It concerns an exclusive club called The Vidocq Society. This is a gathering of crime-solvers. I didn’t grasp from Beth’s mother’s description that it was non-fiction.I thought it was based on real life. In fact, it’s the true stuff. Blurbs and fore matter do not make this clear. It begins, tho, with the central figures conversing, as if the author had recorded it.

When I found the photos in the book, I realized that this was more report than fiction. The presentation was a little fuzzy on the matter.

Capuzzo expends too much effort urging the reader into the lives of the characters. He wants to take control of the material, which I think is an error.

Capuzzo weaves, and that’s an accurate descriptor, bios of the three founders of this Society with accounts of the various cold case murders they and the Society tried to solve.

One might bring up In Cold Blood. That story of murder is also the not quite acknowledged story of Capote writing this history. Capuzzo did not pretend objectivity, and tried to stay hidden. Which didn’t not quite work. Some distressing and disturbing murders are coolly detailed. Of course this is grimly intriguing. At the same time,  Capuzzo tries to convey the ‘essence’ of the three main figures in the book. Like a lot of novelists, he simply idolizes them. Not to say he doesn’t offer the warts, but those warts are all anti-hero brownie points. We are supposed to love these characters.

Such determination is novelistic rooting, and, I should think, right out.

Capuzzo relies on the superlative to make his case, which comes across as slightly goofy. We’re into Tiger Woods and Jennifer Anniston a whole lot more than into great forensic scientists. Let alone poets. The Vidocq Society is a gathering of the greatest forensic investigators, a Murderer’s Row of criminologists. The vision doesn’t hold. Capuzzo kinda makes it seem like greatness within that niche is more widespread than possible. But, you know, I do not even have a list of great forensic investigators, and strongly suspect you don’t either.

Seems like we depend on assumptions. We’ve got it that athletes and other entertainers have a quantifiable greatness, one that the world accepts. Ah, the world aint balanced that way. We love our hierarchies, but really. The greatest accountant is not coequal with the greatest late night talk show host. Sorry.

Capuzzo’s superlatives flop before the reader, more distraction than anything. As compelling (grossly so), as the cases are, we do not really need a rooting section behind the investigators. They have lives of quiet desperation too, just like the rest of us.

I do not believe I must have interest in the characters as characters. Forensic discovery is a structure of understanding independent of the human tools (the people themselves) using it. That is, the person capable of following the trail without intruding the emotions and usual human confusions will probably find success.

Capuzzo offers a world that acknowledges the best  as a thorough and tangible concept. He makes it seem like these elite forensic investigators glow with something everyone recognizes. This presses his vision too vociferously. He’s trying to convince us.

And that is slack writing.

I do not see poetry having the power to convince.  Poetry is the energy of the words themselves, or mostly so. Fiction dies in my view when the author falls in love with the characters and tries to make things nice for them. Non-fiction dies in the plush formation of superlatives. Poetry lives in the disagreeable muddle  of each word slammed against another.

Capuzzo tries to thumbnail the psychology, taking Freud to his most elemental restriction, as if every only child grew up exactly the same.  Buy it, I don’t. Words are people, people are words: ever changing.

Which is not to say I have not enjoyed this book. It has tugged me along pretty efficiently.  The depicted murders are gross and sad, and there are several instances of don’t read/keep reading. The characters are descriptive phrases not anything living. I could go on.