The other day I was trying to explain to Jeff why I love mysteries so much. The more I attempted to explain it to him, the more complicated it became. I believe that my affinity for mysteries (and I mean who-done-its, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers novels, not thrillers) goes way back to my childhood. The more I reflect on it the less discernible a point-of-origin becomes.
I think that it has to do in part with a fascination with the supernatural. In the first grade, I remember checking out books of true ghost stories with photographs of ghosts, often depicted as smoky, light-filtered forms or plumes of billowing ectoplasm. The ultimate mystery, of course, is the mystery of what lies beyond the physical world, right? Then, when my father died, that interest was amplified for obvious reasons. Where did he go? Is there a heaven? But, of course, there aren’t answers to these questions.
So, as I grew older and life became more complicated and I entered adolescence, murder mysteries became a source of shelter. I gave myself over to puzzles with solutions. A world made dangerous and chaotic by death was, by the end of the story, set back in order thanks to Poirot or Marlowe. I think this attempt to return to order led me to the Modernists, such as Woolf and Eliot and Joyce, writers trying to uncover a new form from the fragments of old forms.
To this day, I still prize a return to order in books that I read, and therefore, I attempt to achieve that same unity in my writing. I’ve been criticized for this in workshops, though. And I understand why. The world constantly reminds us that it is a chaotic place—a place that gives and takes life randomly, so art, as a reflection of life, must represent that chaos. Of course, when I’m confronted with this line of thought, I think also of all the patterns and designs that nature and man have created. Perhaps, the world is a place where order and chaos are constantly in dialogue, and perhaps, a mystery is an exploration of that dialogue.