Sunday, May 22, 2011

Heads You Lose: The Detective Novel from the Sidelines

(Reflections on HEADS YOU LOSE by Lisa Lutz and David Heyward)

What happens when you have to suspend your suspension of disbelief?

This novel follows a sister and brother, both twenty-somethings, as they deal with an inconvenient headless corpse that shows up on their property one night, and again after they think they've disposed of it.

At each chapter's end, we cut away from the story to read snarky comments from one collaborator to the other. Lutz has published detective fiction before;  Heyward, her ex, has published at least one poem before in 1996, in Harper's, on page 32, as he reminds her.  According to her, he loses plot lines in his efforts at character development;  according to him, she kills off all the best characters.

The result is all the fun of a detective novel, with some of the fun of creating one.   I've plotted one mystery myself, once, in collaboration with seventeen eighth-graders.  I know the frustration of characters and plot that don't seem to be going the way you want them to go, and the exhilaration of finding a thread that connects all the random pieces anyway.

The two pleasures dovetail in this novel's denouement, along with the added pleasure of discovering that the title is apt in more ways than one.