For quite some time now I have been resenting the fact that I have lost the habit of reading be it bedtime or leisure time. Reasons? Tight schedule, pressure of work, physical and mental exhaustion, general lack of concentration and attentiveness, immersion in diverse activities leading to short retention span (that’s completely my own psychoanalysis), reader’s block ( if that really exists – something akin to writer’s block!) or rather saturation in terms of mental assimilation due to over engagement in a routine of voluminous reading, re-reading, analysis and occasionally fruitful and at times totally inutile but grueling R&D as part of my office work, gravitating around myriad mundane meaningless chores rather than orbiting around higher pursuits, etc. etc. The list of excuses is endless yet they are just excuses, and therefore in the final analysis, lame.
This time God heard me out from some distant Universe and I fell sick twice consecutively and severely which meant hours spent lying on bed counting the number of rotations the ceiling fan took without cooling the room to near comfortable temperature. Of course, the AC was functional but running that would not have given as much masochistic pleasure as the former exercise imparted. And given the fact how and what I am, spending the day just being horizontal was more killing than the vengeful virus which attacked my poor biological system mercilessly. So, what to do when grounded, completely, in the true sense of the term?
- Ruminate agonizingly on each bygone moment of a life misspent heightening your mental miseries?
- Give in to imagining a bleak post retirement life confined to bed suffering as much as being painful to others – a formidable and morbid projection into the unknowable future which can easily suck you into a head spinning cyclonic swirl of paranoia?
- Play Candy Crush Saga on your Smartphone till the phone is bereft of all smartness and starts behaving most un-smartly?
- Enter the medicine induced soporific zone and be there till you start feeling like a zombie?
- Be glued to the idiot box till an unmatched precedence of idiocy is established?
- Listen to mom’s disgruntled drones on how every department of the household is dwindling to disastrous malfunctioning on account of deliberate absence of dedicated care and concern?
- Or very simply catch up on your unfinished (or rather neglected) reading?
And for once, I fantastically took the appropriate decision of pursuing the last but not the least bulleted activity. Why fantastic? Well! That is a different story altogether for a mind perpetually vacillating between what is right and what is easy.
Now the prime consideration was the choice of read. Of course, you don’t expect a fever-frenzied mind to dwell upon the intricate corollaries and fitting axioms which tenaciously bridge the gaps between Science and Religion or how the corridors of power tortuously wind into corruption mired alleys of stinking scams and shameful controversies ceremoniously dropping on the way any pretension of exemplary ethical governance that the hopelessly naive citizens of this country, even after so many years since that fateful Day of Independence, are still stupidly clinging to.
Mind has its own magical contraptions. Even after more than three decades, as soon as I pick up a soft bound, I invariably recall how my father used to so very strongly pronounce that all paperbacks contained trash as soon as we laid our hands on one of them. It was not that he condemned the genre in letter and spirit but I guess had I and my sister invested a little more of our time and interest in hard bound classics (which we actually did intermittently) instead of racy page turners he would have been more happy and satisfied. So was the case with my Paternal Uncle who was famous for finishing a bestseller in breath-stopping speed and then proclaiming it to be “all nonsense” throwing the book aside!! In this era of economizing on tetra/refill packs, I wonder what my father’s comments would have been on easy-to–carry-versions, and more so, for the portable digitized (kindle?????) ones.
Disregarding memories of my father’s admonition I settled on a read which would be less exacting on my racked brain yet nonetheless not fail to keep me intrigued. Since my formative years, I had been fed a staple diet of adrenaline-rushing-whodunits (thanks to my elder sister), not because of their gory quotient but because they were always considered more mind stimulating. At an age when my peers were hooked to mushy romances ( the Mills & Boons & Barbara Cartland types) and normed a non-addict ( to such mindless pretty-young-thing-swooning-over-the-tall-dark-handsome-macho-guy-at-first-sight-love-stories) as distinctly perverted and weird I, in turn, held them in utter contempt for being so gullible and dumb to nurture that unflinching fondness for such Cinderella-esq-fairy-tales and all-matches-are-made-in-heaven-kind-of-notion. But that was a long long time back, really!!!
So coming back to my present status of being sick in every possible sense of the term, what could be more engrossing and attention diverting (from my-days-are-numbered-on-this-planet-earth-syndrome) than a fast paced suspense thriller. I quickly settled for a Mary Higgins Clark. This time it was “All Around The Town”.
Blurb: Laurie Kenyon was kidnapped at the age of four and returned after two years to her parents who could not stop thanking God for His kindness. They thought it was a miracle that their child was safely back and behaved as though nothing was amiss. Mr. and Mrs. Kenyon staunchly believed that Laurie was abducted by some unlucky childless couple who must have showered a lot of love and care on their poor, estranged kid and ultimately realizing their mistake and supposedly feeling guilty had thought of giving her back to her real parents. It was Laurie’s elder sister, Sarah Kenyon, who promised to herself that no harm should befall her little sister ever again.
Laurie grew up to be a very beautiful, intelligent and spirited girl. A gifted golfer, an ace student and a loving sister, Laurie was Sarah’s world. However, when Kenyons suddenly succumbed to a freak road accident, Sarah’s comfort cocoon crumbled. She was left alone to take care of her young sister who now blamed herself for their parents’ death. Laurie’s shrink diagnosed her to be positively suicidal. Gregg, Laurie’s ex-boyfriend, could not figure out why she suddenly broke away from him without any rhyme or reason. But when Professor Allan Grant, Laurie’s Varsity mentor, was unexpectedly murdered, all clues pointed towards Laurie. Sarah, left her thriving career of a Public Prosecutor, to defend her sister in Court. Yet Sarah knew that there was no other way for Laurie but to plead guilty as it was more than confirmed that she had committed the crime under the influence of her alter-ego.
Laurie’s abductors were now celebrated Television evangelists and feared if Laurie opened her mouth about what happened to her in those two years of abduction, their career would be doomed. So, the only possible option left for them was to not let Laurie speak even if that meant taking an extreme course of action. Justine, Laurie’s psychoanalyst, was at his tether’s end as Laurie’s multiple alter-egos would not let the truth be disclosed. In such mind boggling situation would Sarah be able to save her traumatized sibling from the gallows?
My Take: Higgins deftly weaves multiple sub-plots cogently into the mainstream in a seamless flow of storytelling. The book is gripping. The narrative is consistent. The characterizations relatable. However, I have a problem when it comes to murder mysteries. Being a diehard the-all-time-queen-of-crime-fiction-Agatha-Christie fan, I land up comparing every other mystery writer with the doyen. While Christie is class apart Higgins is very, very American. While Christie tends to delve into the minds of her characters, thereby pulling her readers along to do so as well, Higgin’s build-up is situational. I have often found Higgins predictable because Christie has taught me to suspect the least suspicious of characters. While Higgins relies heavily on dramatization Christie unobtrusively eggs her readers to follow her train of thought on how to deduce the right answer (read the culprit) from the baffling miasma of contrary facts – it’s more like patiently putting a jigsaw puzzle in place. Christie draws her readers in a mind game of collaborative investigation of come-let’s-find-out-who-it-can-be-style whereas Higgins tells you point blank who it is as the narrative progresses episodically in leaps and bounds. Notwithstanding the above critique, Higgins is interesting and does not let a moment drag in a race of tight scripting. She is well conversant of the subject that she takes up to-deal with in each of her novels which by the detailing is made quite clear to her readers how well-researched the theme is. In the instant case, the sessions on psychoanalysis for handling/treating a patient with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is reflection of her vast and thorough probe and study on the subject.
By the time, I finished this three hundred odd paged book, I was flexing my muscles thinking that after all my reading speed appeared to be intact precluding the self-imposed hiatus. And the results were not so bad at all! I had completed reading the novel within a few hours’ time!!! Now it depended who the credit could be given to – the writing style of Mary Higgins Clark or my readership prowess.
Little About The Author: Mary Higgins Clark is one of America’s best-selling authoresses. At the age of ten, she became aware of ‘the fragility of life’ when one fated morning her father quietly slipped out of this world in his sleep. She and her siblings were brought up by her mother who was a strong and resilient figure in her life. Widowed early Mary herself had to bring up five kids on her own. Thus, her characters always show that indomitable side of human spirit which enables them to carry on undaunted in the face of adversities. She is well-versed in the nuances of criminology and behavioural problems and patterns of crime perpetrators. She is known as America’s “Queen of Suspense” and her books have been adapted by film makers and converted into audio cassettes. In 1987 she became the President of Mystery Writers of America. Being Irish she feels she is a born storyteller. Each of her fifty one books is a bestseller.
My Epilogic Two Bit Gyaan: Having apprised all you sweet readers of all about Mary Higgins Clark and her powerful crime fictions, I would like to swing back to the state of affairs which served as the genesis of the long discussion on how to kill time when you are yourself being killed by deadly micro-organisms. And having endured as much as I would not have liked to, the divine wisdom that prevailed at the end of the ordeal, was that it is far far better to pick up the threads of whatever you have dumped a long long time back because you thought you were too-too busy and life increasingly pressuring than to submit to excruciatingly painful bouts of self-pity and torture. So do take the hint guys and God forbid next time you are compelled to stick your backs to your bedsheets free your minds of all imaginary fears and listen to your souls’ pukaar and resume what you have been procrastinating for eons. Like I did losing myself in the complex world of MPDs, satanic preachers and murky macabre outcomes though it may sound a bit perverse but then it is each according to his/her preference…At the end of the day what counted was that I was relieved of a tiresome baggage!
Bye & Be Good To Yourselves!!!!