Beginning today, and every Friday thereafter, Women’s eNews will select a ‘Book of the Week,’ providing you with a sampling of some of the latest books from some of the finest female writers who will stir your curiosity, feed your intellect, and take you anywhere and everywhere, without leaving the comfort of your own home. We hope you will join us in supporting these highly talented authors!!
This week’s Book of the Week is Private Investigations
by Victoria Zackheim
When it was suggested that I consider a collection of essays written by mystery writers revealing the mysteries of their lives, I couldn’t help but think of my own. Were the life-changing mysteries that had shaped my life shared by the twenty gifted writers in this collection? I quickly discovered that all of us view mystery in very different and personal ways. The mysteries we discover in the course of everyday living are real, imagined, dreamed, even hoped for, feared, and anticipated. A mystery can present itself as an enigma, a solution, a challenge, a surprise. A thing of despair—or something magical. Falling in love—or out of love. Gaining stature and reputation or losing respect. Being innocent—and then not. Marriage and divorce, illness and death, the rise and fall of friendships. The expected and the serendipitous. Situations that hurt us and thrill us. In these stories, you are invited into the private lives of gifted writers, most of them New York Times and international best sellers. You may be a fan, or you may be reading their work for the first time. Their stories, all true, cover the breadth of life experiences, from introspective to mystical, from laugh-out-loud funny to noir. Mysteries, when presented from our very personal perspectives—and all of these certainly are—come in all forms. So what are the secrets, riddles, and wonders of our lives? Do we focus on our joy or grief, highs or lows, something meticulously defined or so amorphous as to seem impossible to fathom? Whatever form these mysteries take, all of us have had our lives shaped by them. They affect who we are and how we live, love, think . . . behave. We can celebrate those riddles, wonders, and secrets, or we can fear them. Perhaps it’s because everything we touch, everything that touches us, has the potential to be a mystery. I felt this when I held my children for the first time. And when I accompanied my daughter to a medical examination and heard the twin heartbeats of my first grandchildren, causing my knees to buckle so that I had to grip the bed rail to stop myself from falling. And when I look into the faces of my son’s children and imagine their futures, their dreams. There are so many mysteries around us. I remember with unusual clarity that moment in 1977 when I saw my father only minutes after his death. He was ten years younger than I am today. Gone too soon, yet his body seemed so peaceful, finally pain-free. I muttered, “This is not my father,” which caused a bit of alarm for my mother and the nurse. I tried to explain that I was looking at the shell that had housed his beautiful spirit but that his curiosity about the world around him and his quick sense of humor felt very much alive. This was my first close experience with death, and it left me confused, mystified. If a mystery is an enigma that we must unravel, then I was confronting a mystery. That same sense returned while I was sitting at my mother’s bedside. When she took her last breath, I knew that she was finally at peace. Nearly ninety, she had become increasingly angry that her last years were so difficult. An artist who could no longer paint, a political activist whose voice had been stilled, she felt locked within the walls of her home. Again, I struggled with the Why? of it. My complicated, brilliant mother. Who she was will always remain a mystery in my life. Mysteries are found in the stories of our lives, some of them challenging believability. Hallie Ephron visits a spiritualist in the hope of understanding her friend’s claims to have spoken with her murdered brother, while Sulari Gentill discovers an uncle whose existence was kept a secret . . . until she stumbles upon a family photograph. We are confronted with mysteries when health is in question. I don’t exercise nearly enough, and one of my mysteries is how and why I remain upright and relatively healthy! Rachel Howzell Hall was living her life balancing writing, family, and career until a new word joined her lexicon: cancer. Caroline Leavitt lost her voice, found no answers from medical specialists, and set out to solve this mystery on her own.
Many authors pull from their very personal experiences when mapping out the plots of their novels. Connie May Fowler recalls her abuse at the hands of her mother, the social pressures she felt as a childless woman, and a recent illness that was frightening yet reminded her of the kindness of strangers. William Kent Krueger shares how his childhood was defined by the mysteries of his mother’s mental illness—the same woman who became the protagonist of one of his novels. Life teaches us such varied lessons, some of which are cloaked in mystery, such as our quest for truth and how we respond to love and loss. As different as the stories in this collection are, you will discover similarities of the human spirit. For example, similar themes draw us into the varied and always difficult elements of war: survival, challenge, hardship, discovery. How are we affected by war? Do we honor those who fought to defend our rights? Our liberties? Martin Limón reveals the challenges of a young American soldier dropped into the foreign and sometimes mysterious culture of Korea. There are mysteries that we discover as we write or as we adjust to a new place in the world. Ausma Zehanat Khan, an international human rights attorney, explores the mystery of her own origins, while Cara Black’s Paris is so much a part of her being that Inspector Maigret seems to be evident everywhere she goes. As you read these stories—I resist calling them essays, although that is what they are, because that label suggests something impersonal, perhaps even cold, whereas these narratives are rich with warmth and intimacy, sharing and trust—you will hear each author’s voice, share each story, and in many ways feel as if that author is seated beside you and speaking directly to you. What are your personal mysteries? What have you seen, survived, and experienced that has made you who you are today? When you read these stories, you might find yourself nodding, smiling, perhaps discovering tears in your eyes, certainly identifying with so much that the twenty authors share with you. It is my hope that you find elements of yourself and your life in some of these stories and that what you find, what you discover, leads you to a greater understanding of who you are and how important you are—an essential thread in this mysterious tapestry we call life.
“A fascinating and unsettling set of essays about what makes writers curious, what makes them investigate.” —JANE SMILEY, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres