Welcome to another Thoughts On book review. You’ll see these pop up on my blog whenever I’ve found a book I just can’t put down.
A wise teacher once told me the key to writing a well-structured story is shaping the form around its content. Subliminally this stylistic coherency plays a trick on the reader’s mind. It allows the author to convey her message not only with her words but also with the way in which those words are presented. Rhyme phrases to sound more lyrical. Write concisely to quicken the pace. The possibilities for strategic crafting with form are endless.
So when writing a twisted, tangled-up, murder mystery novel chock-full of red (Early) herrings and complicated backstories, why not disrupt the story’s format even more by interjecting a string of interrupting footnote conversations?
Well, that’s exactly what Michele Jaffe does. And it works.
I usually pride myself on being a decent close reader. From Dr. Seuss to Dostoevsky I can usually decipher a plot and stick with it for the length of the story, retaining a solid level of comprehension throughout. However while reading Bad Kitty I was constantly distracted.
For starters Jaffe introduces the crime’s backstory right off the bat before you even realize you should be paying attention. Jasmine’s friends gossip about the murder and de-thumbing of photographer Red Early’s manager in a botched robbery attempt. Although she listens while they prattle, Jasmine is ultimately uninterested in the scandal. And as such, so are we. Assuming we don’t need to remember these random ramblings, we readers brush off the backstory of the crime and direct our attention to what we think is the novel’s main plot: Jasmine’s attempt to survive a boring family vacation with her vapid cousin, Alyson.
Eventually through a series of twists and turns the plot swivels back around to the crime. In fact, the murder becomes the very crux of the entire novel. Armed with a fresh stack of Post-its, I tagged the backstory and toggled to it whenever I needed clarification. There. Problem solved.
But, oh no. The fun doesn’t stop there.
Throughout the entire story, Jasmine’s crew (her friends Polly, Roxy, and Tom, her cousin, Alyson, and Alyson’s carbon-copy best friend, Veronique) all step out of the main story and start up side conversations to purposely distract the reader from figuring out whodunit and how. In a series of footnotes across the bottoms of pages they react to the events being conveyed in the story. They go off on tangents about everything under the sun. This disorientating dialogue makes readers question which conversations actually hold the answers to the crime.
I mean, should I remember that there was a broken Oreo with some mysterious white powder on it in the hotel trashcan, or is the fact that Jasmine was wearing Kermit the Frog underwear when her crush saw her skirt fly up more important?
By the end of the novel my fingertips were sore from flipping back and forth through the pages trying to figure out the mystery for myself.
But I loved every second of it. Because that’s exactly how a mystery novel should make you feel.
The aim of a mystery novel is not to give you the pieces and let you put the puzzle together. Where’s the fun in that? The aim of a mystery novel is to describe the pieces in the vaguest of terms. To hide them in those familiar, often overlooked corners of your mind. To shine a distracting glare on the guide image so you can never truly see what you’re doing. Only at the end of a well-written mystery should you finally see the whole picture.
Footnotes were a great addition to this novel because they add to the jumbled confusion of the narrative and are down right hilarious to read. In retrospect, having not been able to solve the mystery by the end of the novel only made me want to read it again.
So it’s no wonder Jaffe’s book is incredibly engaging from beginning to end. She takes measures throughout the story to match her form with her content. And she does it well. Case closed.
Desperate for more mystery? Check out my Thoughts On Vanishing Girls post here.