One won’t get hard into Gordon McAlpine’s Woman with a Blue Pencil before it becomes clear that this book is not like any other murder mystery. We’ve just gotten to know Samuel Sumida and his quest to find his wife’s killer when the lights fade to black and we’re presented with a letter from a publisher’s editor to the author of Sam’s story. It turns out that just after 7 December 1941 isn’t the best time to publish a novel about a Japanese protagonist and a White antagonist. The editor, Maxine, tells Takumi that it just won’t sell. But she has some suggestions.
We never hear from Takumi directly. We only get his perspective when Maxine refers directly to his dilemmas in her letters. While Sam’s story continues, we also get to see Takumi’s more commercial effort about Korean American detective, Jimmy Park. Maxine’s letters push the Park narrative in new directions that made me roll my eyes. Park is über-patriotic and highly talented. Taking a cue from the current anti-Japanese mood, Maxine drives Takumi to write a jingoistic tale of a Japanese spy ring. Yet, the story doesn’t have the same soul that Sam’s story had. It’s clear that Takumi’s heart isn’t in it.
Woman with a Blue Pencil gives readers several narratives to puzzle out. We have to figure out what happened to Sam’s wife, if there really are Japanese spies, how Maxine is going to get Takumi’s second novel published, and what will happen to Takumi—especially when we learn that Takumi has been interned at Manzanar. I loved every page of it.
The other week, someone asked me what I liked to read. I only had a few second to come up with an answer. So I said metafiction. It’s true. I love stories that play around with the idea of story. I love stories that play with genre. Story fascinates me, especially when I get to see early versions before everything has been polished up. Weirdly, Sam and Jimmy’s stories seemed more alive while they were being created. They could go anywhere Takumi let them. It was, as Stephen King once said, “uniquely portable magic.”
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 10 November 2015.