Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Ed here: One more reason to fear death...you can't defend yourself when your accusers attack!

In Online Mourning, Don’t Speak Ill of the Dead
Sally Ryan for The New York Times
Screeners for Legacy.com in Illinois monitor obituary guest books to weed out inappropriate remarks.


Published: November 5, 2006

EVANSTON, Ill. — Long-silent mistresses, disgruntled former employees, estranged family members — Katie Falzone has seen them all.
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Sally Ryan for The New York Times
Legacy, which gets more than six million visitors a month and one comment every five seconds, says it vets everything before it is posted.

They turn to the online guest books at the obituary Web site where she works, Legacy.com, to convey unflattering thoughts about the recently departed.

It is Ms. Falzone’s job to stop them.

In a room here full of glowing computer terminals and hushed conversations, she and 44 other screeners pore over the 18,000 notes sent daily about the newly deceased, hoping to catch the backhanded compliments, meanspirited innuendo and airing of dark family secrets.

Dissing the dead, as these screeners call it, has become a costly and complicated problem for Legacy and other Web sites where people gather to mourn online. Legacy, which is now eight years old, carries a death notice or obituary for virtually all the roughly 2.4 million people who die each year, but few foresaw how nasty some of the postings to its guest books would be.

Some of the snubs are blunt. “Everyone gets their due,” a former client writes of an embezzling accountant. Or, “I sincerely hope the Lord has more mercy on him than he had on me during my years reporting to him at the Welfare Department.”

Others are subtler: “She never took the time to meet me, but I understand she was a wonderful grandmother to her other grandchildren.”

for the rest of the piece log on here http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/05/us/05memorial.html?em&ex=1162962000&en=c9c67a442c99c551&ei=5087%0A


« Wizardly | Main | This isn't going to be easy »
October 25, 2006

Many readers will note (or "violently object to the fact") that on my Top 10 Favorite Literary Thrillers (see below), there's a passel of writers normally on such lists who don't appear here: Dennis Lehane, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, George Pelecanos, Robert Parker, Michael Connelly.

A chief reason I have trouble with individual examples from these writers is their reliance on the exotic mastermind serial killer, a device to maintain suspense that is so overused the killer's knife hand must be tired by now from murdering every nubile young thing in sight. Even Thomas Harris should have retired Hannibal Lecter after Silence of the Lambs. His follow-up, Hannibal, was a complete botch, a dreadful book.

And the fact is that such serial killers are extremely rare; most are just pathetic screw-ups unable to relate to others without resorting to violence. What makes the serial killer novel worse is its reliance on that other cliche: the profiler or the brilliant detective who must steep himself in violence and madness to understand the killer's thinking and thus risk his own sanity. Again, a writer has to do something with style and voice or upending these conventions to keep me interested.
It has been so long since I read anything by Robert Parker; I could imagine including an early Spenser -- before Spenser's narrative voice became smug and self-satisfied. James Ellroy's hammer-handed, hard-boiled hipster jive drives me up a wall -- that and the fact that his books always seem to be on the verge of sheer hysteria as a way of keeping up interest/suspense. For someone so jaded, the narrator seems to be constantly screaming at us. James Lee Burke? Again, one of the earlier ones, if I re-read them and reminded myself why I once liked his books.

I would have to go back and re-read some of John D. McDonald, too, to find which one of his stands out, although everyone generally cites The Dreadful Lemon Sky. I happily chose Ross Macdonald's The Underground Man, but I could have picked half a dozen -- the quality of his Lew Archer novels was very high, very consistent. Instead of the aggressively hard-boiled wisecracker, Archer was an innovation among private eyes -- a world-weary guy but a thoroughly decent (not necessarily 'noble') man, a shrewd and sensitive listener, something of an apprentice shrink. This, and the fact that many of Archer's mysteries revolved around old family history and wounded psychology, were Macdonald's great advances in the hard-bitten form.

I admit to a twinge of white liberal guilt for not including a title by Chester Himes. But although I found his Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones novels highly entertaining, notably The Real Cool Killers and Cotton Comes to Harlem, they are far too cartoony-satiric for me to enjoy reading them again. Or taking them entirely seriously.

Much the same, by the way, goes for some of Elmore Leonard's later books. I've read every one of his books, admire many of them, but Get Shorty may have been his last fine one before his recent return to form with The Hot Kid. In between, the books had become mannered, the plots a little too obviously improvised and the characters, particularly the bad guys, too cute and dim.

I also admit to a twinge of white male guilt for not including a female writer/detective. Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski has come the closest. Much of the hard-boiled form is akin to male sentimentality: "It's an evil world and a guy has to be tough to survive, but inside, beneath the wounds and bitterness, lies a noble heart," etc. For the male hard-boiled hero, the easy motivational/audience sympathy trigger is revenge -- which is why many second-rate writers race to 'make it personal.' The detective's helpless client or partner or love interest just happens to get murdered by this week's villain and so he takes on the case with righteous anger. Or the rampaging serial killer directs his taunts to the detective.

On the other hand, the form most readily available to female protagonists in an evil setting is the gothic -- the imperiled young woman. And the easy emotional trigger here is obvious: Put the detective herself in danger. This is why, I suspect, Patricia Cornwell -- whose work I dislike -- keeps getting her protagonist personally tangled up as a target. But if it's relatively unrealistic for a detective to be directly involved as an act of revenge, it's just as unrealistic (and tedious) to see the detective as always a potential victim. I'm still waiting for the great female hard-boiled noir heroine or author, and I'm willing to be convinced she's arrived . . . somewhere. Look at Patricia Highsmith, perhaps the closest thing the noir novel has to a female master -- and her greatest creation is Ripley, a morally ambiguous, cold-hearted male. A number of readers have already enthusiastically touted Denise Mina: I'll take a look.

As for the last inclusions: The other justification for such lists, after prompting debate, is getting readers intrigued by titles they may have never heard of, certainly never heard of in the same breath as such masters as Hammett and Macdonald. Clevenger's The Contortionist's Handbook and Garland's The Tesseract are both very intense, very spare, yet they do inventive things with point of view and time sequence, unfolding their narratives in ways that aren't just ingenious, they're often mind-bending. And Meek's The People's Act of Love is a dark, highly atmospheric marvel -- a historical novel set in Siberia at the end of the Russian Revolution, involving mystic cults, a trapped regiment of Czech soldiers and a possible madman. Enjoy.

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