Monday, January 9, 2012


I don't mean to throw anyone under the bus, but I just watched DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (come on...the roommate had it on while I was trying to read...) and it reminded me of a plot device that drives me crazy. Now, we all know Mr. Del Toro is really great at what he does, and I can't even imagine writing something with the quality of PAN'S LABYRINTH, so I'm not going to touch on the overall critiques that my roommate was slinging. But here's my gripe:

The house is haunted. The little girl knows it. No one believes the little girl because...she has a history of being crazy. Ok, so I stayed in front of the TV longer than I had planned, I had to know how this little girl's past ties into this really bizarre plot. And then it never does! They tell us that she's already taking crazy pills. They tell us that "she's done this type of thing before." But they never tell us what happened to her. And, thus, the mentions of her craziness are just a plot device, a reason for the parents not to believe the house it haunted. Seriously? So, what if you take a normal, reliable, trustworthy little girl and put her in this house. When she starts yelling that the house is haunted - guess what? - no one's going to believe her either. Why even introduce us to the little girl's mysterious past if it has nothing to do with the story? Why introduce us to this backstory if we're never going to learn the rest of it?

That's why I love MYSTIC RIVER. All of the plot devices develop into major aspects of the story. Lehane's red herrings don't exist simply to dupe the police and the readers. His herrings are guilty of something else, something that they may see as even worse than the murder. Even more than whodunnit, Lehane's stories are about who didn't do it.

The world doesn't revolve around this one murder, and long after justice prevails, our herring will still be dealing with his demons. His problems won't get handcuffed and thrown in a cage. Life will go on, so why should he blurt out his secrets?

Mr. Herring doesn't just come and go when convenient to the plot. Mr. Herring's existense, Mr. Herring's lies, shape the ending of the story. Our main character would be a different person at the end if it weren't for Mr. Herring.

And then there's the Other Herring. Now, I never believed that O. Herring was guilty. From the beginning he reaked of a plot device. But, turns out, even O. Herring is essential to the story as a whole.
Despite my rant on DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, I do actually enjoy plot devices. I enjoy the opportunity to dupe the reader. But don't forget that us readers are pretty smart, especially if we've been demolishing the mystery section of our library, breezing through 3 novels a week (I've just set my 2012 reading goal at goodreads...). We've seen all the plots, we know all the devices, we can recognize members of the Herring family from their first line of dialogue. So do something more, follow Mr. Lehane's example and make these devices part of the drama.

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