Enough with the Murder
November 9, 2014 • Los Angeles
Murder seems to be something we’re desensitized to, and it’s part of the plotline of a lot of fiction and nonfiction alike. There are so many reality TV murder documentary series that they can be categorized by the social class and race of the victims. It makes sense that we’re interested in it; we all face death eventually, making it an extremely engaging topic. But by seeing it and reading about it so much, are we trivializing it by becoming desensitized? A woman who’d been affected by murder, talking to Ira Glass on This American Life last year, wondered how people would react to a rape mystery evening, as an alternative to a murder mystery evening. Imagine a fun social event where someone has been raped, and then we all have to work on figuring out who the rapist is. I wouldn’t touch that with a bargepole. So why is that distasteful, and yet a murder mystery evening sounds like a lot of fun? I suspect most people have no experience with that kind of loss, and that murder is trivial because it only happens on television and in books.
When I was thinking about the plot and the characters for Signs Point to Yes, I wanted to tell an engaging story that didn’t involve murder. I know that murder is a great vehicle for a mystery story, and I’ve enjoyed many page-turners based on murders. Some of the greatest popular literature is about hard-ass detectives like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe embroiled in death. But in developing a plot, murder seemed almost too easy, and I think I had to work harder to tell a story without it. The feedback I’ve been getting about the book has involved questions and commentary about the characters and the locations in the story; so far no one has said it was unengaging because it didn’t start with a murder. So perhaps I’ve achieved my goal.