I read Griffith’s first novel, Ammonite, shortly after it came out. It was, for many years, the best first novel I’d ever read. I also read one of the Bending the Landscape anthologies she edited with Stephen Pagel, and it was good, too, but not earthshaking. Slow River was well-written, but for some reason it just didn’t toast my bread. I knew that Griffith had written a mystery or two, but didn’t hurry to find them.
I should have.
I read The Blue Place a few days ago. I finished it the same day I started it, because I couldn’t do anything else. I don’t know why it hit me so hard, as it isn’t really the sort of thing I usually like. It’s definitely classic noir, and I prefer my mysteries on the cozy side. The heroine, Aud Torvingen, pings me as being too much like the person my crazy ex-girlfriend pretends to be.1
Fortunately, Aud doesn’t have Teh Crazy. She’s not a comfortable person, and I still don’t entirely like her. She’s extremely real, though, and I’ve been right there with her throughout these books.
Griffith’s prose is tight, but packed with details that let you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel her world. When Aud runs her hands along the grain of a plank of wood, you know the tree. You’re inside Torvingen’s head, and it isn’t a comfortable place for anyone. She’s very much at home with her body, and Griffith allowed me to remember how glorious it is to move, to work hard, to dance, in a body that does what it should. I’m thankful for that.
The Blue Place was a gut punch. I didn’t expect the ending. I didn’t like the ending. With most authors, I would have tossed anything else she wrote into the giveaway box and gone on. In fact, I was going to return the other two books in the series to the library, unread.
So what do I do? Picked up Stay this morning, because I couldn’t help it. I needed to know where Aud went from where Griffith had left her. And I’ll probably read Always after that, although I may have to recover for a few days again. I don’t know if I’ll write anything about those two, specifically, but this is probably enough babbling for most people.
I just realized why I’ve never re-read Slow River, or recommended it. It does deal with childhood sexual abuse2, which I try to avoid in fiction. That wasn’t the real problem, though. Betrayal is such a major theme in the book that I felt as if I had nowhere to stand. I identified too strongly with the main character, and I read it at a time when I really didn’t have a firm foundation. I could probably read it again now, with my nicely safe and settled life, but I don’t know that I will.
I understand that Griffith has an anthology of her own short stories coming out sometime soon. I look forward to it, and whether Stay and Always give me warm fuzzies or not, I plan to read it. I can’t recommend her work strongly enough if you’re looking for solid writing, piercing descriptions, and honest characterizations.
1 Now that I’m reading the sequel, that feeling is even stronger. I seriously think she may have read these and chosen Torvingen as a role model.
2 I don’t recall any explicit abuse scenes. All the characters are adults at the time of the events in the novel. There is explicit sex, though, in the context of a dysfunctional (abusive, by my standards) relationship.