This book was born out of anger -- specifically, my own domestic anger, which stemmed from a combination of guilt, resentment, exhaustion, naivete, and the chaos of my life at the time. But ultimately, it is not an angry book. It's a book that shows us that the trials and tribulations of our work and relationships, children and homes and sex lives -- complete with their passions, dysfunctions, and frustrations -- are not ours alone but the same or similar struggles of so many others. It's a book that reveals that if the grass sometimes seems greener, sometimes it is. And sometimes, it's decidedly not.
The book began two years ago, after my family-my husband, Dan, and our two children, then aged four and one -- had just left New York City to move to a small town in Massachusetts where the kids could each have a room and Dan could work part-time from home instead of fulltime from an office, enabling him to write his second novel and do his part of the co-parenting arrangement we'd both always (if vaguely) envisioned. The move came, for me, after an autonomous decade in my twenties indulging in all the things I had come to value -- a rewarding, lucrative career combined with exercise, romance, solitude, good friends -- followed by six whirlwind years that included marrying, moving three times, and birthing and nursing two children, all while contributing my necessary share of the family income by writing a monthly magazine column, publishing a novel, and completing a second novel under contract. By the end, I'd worked my way up to roughly two-thirds time hired child care, much of it taking place in our apartment (in which I also worked). Our final year in New York had been a veritable marathon: nursing a baby at the computer while typing to make a deadline; sprinting home from my daughter's nursery school, both kids in tow, to return phone calls; handing the children off to Dan the instant he walked in at night so I could rush out to a coffee shop to get my work done. When we moved, I expected things to finally be different. I'd be able to work purely and efficiently to focus as I had years ago -- knowing Dan was on during those times. We'd be calm, we'd take family bike rides . . .our New Lives would begin.
Instead, my life, my marriage, my schedule, felt more overwhelming than ever. The phones rang nonstop. (We had three different "distinctive rings" -- Dan's work line, my work line, and the family line, Total nightmare.) FedEx packages and cartons of books I was supposed to be reading -- I was writing Mademoiselle's monthly books page at the time arrived by the week, to be added to the still -- unpacked boxes that rimmed every room, dust bunnies breeding around them. I rarely managed to cook a good dinner, as my own mother had virtually every night, and I rushed my children through the hours so I could get to all the things I had to do, furious when they wouldn't go to bed, when they were up calling me in the night. Dan was doing more parenting than he ever had (and feeling, I imagined, like a better father than those of previous generations simply by virtue of being around), yet I still felt I was the one who managed and was responsible for the kids -- from their meals to their clothing, activities, schoolwork, baby-sitters, birthday parties as well as handling all the "domestic" things I'd always done (grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, school and social responsibilities, and so on). I still had the same work -- my income was now even more important -- and, it seemed, less time than ever to do it. My days were nonstop at high speed, my brain flooded with lists and obligations.
All day long, I stomped around barking orders, irritable and stressed out. I was angry at the cat for waking me, at the car for having no gas when I got in it (late for something -- always late), at the toy I'd just tripped on . . . and at Dan. Because he'd used up the coffee filters or Cascade without putting them on the list; because he'd finished his work and had time to check out the New York Times and Salon while I struggled to find time for mine; because I was always more anxious and frantic than he was. Of course, I'd fallen in love with him partly because of this very calm, but now his ability to relax when I never seemed to felt unfair, oblivious, even rude. I resented him and this chaos I found myself in -- even as I never stopped being grateful for the elements that created it, Two healthy children, a nice home, an interesting job . . . what could I possibly be mad about? And yet, mad I was.
So, night after night, once the kids were asleep (sort of), I left laundry unfolded, phone calls unreturned, school forms unfilled out, and my own work undone to go online and fire furious e-mails to my friends to try to figure it out. And I began to realize something. A lot of these women -- particularly those who, like me, were ambitious women (often writers) juggling jobs and marriages and, sometimes, small children -- also were resentful, guilty, stressed out. "I want a partner in my husband, not another child," one fired back at me. "I told him if something doesn't change, I'm leaving, even though we just got married," said another, adding, "Yesterday I actually had a fantasy that we got a divorce, moved back into our separate apartments, and just dated each other again." "I'm fine all day at work, but as soon as I get home, I'm a horror," said a third. "I'm the bitch in the house."
The bitch in the house. That's exactly how I felt. The opposite of what Virginia Woolf called The Angel in the House -- but with anger to boot. Sometimes my friends and I would get on the topic of our sex lives, or -- in the case of the married ones, it seemed-lack thereof. "Put me anywhere near a bed and I just want to sleep," said one mother. The recently wed woman mourned the loss of the "hot sex" she'd had with her husband before they'd tied the proverbial knot. One young single friend who'd just moved in with her boyfriend already felt the waning of her desire. (In the same breath, she spoke of how it scared and amazed her how angry she got at him sometimes -- how she'd walk in from work and see a sinkful of dishes and explode with rage, while her poor boyfriend watched, baffled, from the couch, beer in hand, newspaper spread before him, stereo blaring the Dave Matthews Band.)
Newspaper and magazine stories appeared regularly to echo our feelings. "Why Women Hate Their Husbands," screamed a cover line on Talk magazine. (The article's subtitle: "Love, sex, family, career -- it was all supposed to be so easy for the modem woman. Then why are this therapist's patients so furious?") In a piece in the New York Times Magazine, a modem working couple visited the Love Lab (a Family Research Lab in Seattle that, after watching a couple interact, predicts whether they will divorce), and, the male half of the couple reported, "In ten minutes, my wife chalked up one hundred and thirty moments of criticism. I displayed one hundred and thirty-two moments of defensiveness." (His wife, he went on to say, "was a keen critic of an institution into which she had twice been recruited. Marriage, she said, was advertised falsely -- the myth of enduring romantic love -- and its responsibilities sharply limited a woman's growth.")
It was the nightgown that hooked me:
Sunday, July 13. 1:46 a.m. Near Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon. An unidentified woman in her mid- to late-twenties, wearing a nightgown, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that left her unconscious and seriously injured. There were no witnesses.
That's how my copy would read in next Tuesday's edition of the Crime Sheet. We're not talking Chandler or Hammett --- just the facts, ma'am. There would be no speculation about the nightgown mentioned in the police report, or about the woman wearing it.
Had she been in distress? I wondered. Desperate, maybe, her hair flying behind her like a banner as she dashed across the serpentine road, oblivious of the oncoming car? Had she been running for help, or away from something or someone? Had she been looking behind her in that final moment before the car slammed into her, several tons of metal crushing muscle and delicate bone, or paralyzed by the headlights, feral eyes gleaming menace in the dark, moonless night?
My editor, who constantly carps about lack of space, would probably cut the nightgown. People don't care what she was wearing, Molly, he'd argue. For me, the nightgown was key. And in my opinion, it's details like this that give the Crime Sheet its quirky flavor.
I'm a freelance reporter and I collect data from the Los Angeles Police Department for a section in the local independent throwaways that people read to find out what crimes are taking place in their neighborhoods and fig- ure out how nervous they should be. I also write books about true crime under the pseudonym Morgan Blake. I've always been inquisitive ("Excellent grades marred by interrupting class with too many questions"), and ever since I can remember, I've been drawn to crime stories, true and fictional. So with an English degree from UCLA and extension courses in journalism, I set about channeling my curiosity into a career.
As to my love of crime fiction, I inherited that from my maternal grandmother, Bubbie G (the G is for Genendel, a name Bubbie has forbidden any of us to mention although I think it's cute). Bubbie, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Europe with my late grandfather in 1951, taught herself English and cut her teeth on Erle Stanley Gardner. Soon she was devouring four or five mysteries a week --- cozies, hardboiled, Agatha Christie to Elmore Leonard --- and whenever she babysat us kids, she'd read to us from Dr. Seuss and a few chapters from the latest mystery she'd picked up from the book sale table at the library. Of course, she skipped some of the choice words, something I didn't discover until I became addicted myself.
None of my siblings (there are seven kids in the Blume mishpacha; I'm number three) share Bubbie G's love of mystery, which gives Bubbie and me a special bond. The mystery gene skipped over my mom, Celia, who, aside from teaching high school English, has published one romance novel under the pen name of Charlotte D'Anjou, my father's favorite pear. (Bartlett came in second.)
I suppose it's funny that we both use pseudonyms, though our motives are different, and there's nothing funny about mine. My mom does it because it fits her romantic sensibilities, and I suspect she's not ready to test the reactions of her students and principal. I do it to protect myself from the criminals I write about, people for whom I have a healthy fear and from whom I'd like to keep my identity and address secret.
Because mystery fiction is different from true crime. There are experiences Bubbie won't talk about, ever. There are events I choose not to remember that worm their way into my consciousness despite my efforts to keep them out. It's those events and Bubbie's unspoken past, not curiosity, that compel me to try to find out the why of the horrible things people do to each other. And there are moments when the sadness of the fractured lives I'm investigating makes me wonder whether my mother doesn't have the right idea.
Lookout Mountain, the spot where the woman was hit, is about half a mile south of Mulholland, which is halfway between the city and the San Fernando Valley. I added the information to my hollywood computer file and, with a stack of note-filled pages and several photocopies of police reports in front of me (some divisions will give me photocopies, others will allow me to take notes "under scrutiny"), I proceeded to enter the details of other misdemeanors and felonies in the Hollywood area:
Sunday, July 13. 3:37 a.m. 8400 block of Fountain. A man broke into a woman's home and raped her.
Sunday, July 13. 8:08 a.m. 8500 block of Beverly Boulevard. A suspect, angry about his cellular phone service, threatened his service consultant, saying, "I'm going over there to shoot and kill you."
Monday, July 14. 9:58 p.m. 5700 block of San Vicente Boulevard. Sometime during the morning a thief removed money from a woman's artificial leg.
You get the picture.
I had finished inputting half the police data and was returning to my office with a refilled coffee mug when the phone rang. The Caller ID on my desk phone told me it was my mother, who knows I generally don't take calls when I'm writing. It's so easy to destroy the gossamer filaments of creative thought, so hard to spin them.
I'm an excellent worrier, and my mind ran through several dire possibilities as I picked up the receiver. "Is everything okay, Mom?"
"Everything's fine," she said, panting. "I hate to interrupt you, Molly, but Edie wanted me to call right away."
For my sister Edie, everything has "right away" significance. "You're not interrupting, Mom. Why are you so out of breath?"
"Edie let us have a five-minute break from class," she said, referring to the weekly Israeli dance lessons my sister gives. "She wants to set you up with someone. He's very special. Brilliant, funny, sensitive, handsome."
One of Bubbie G's favorite jokes is about a shadchan (matchmaker) who raves to a young man's parents about a girl who has everything: beauty, intelligence, a sterling character, wealth.
What doesn't she have? ask the skeptical parents. A long pause before the shadchan replies: Teeth.
It's even better in Yiddish.
"What's the hitch?" I asked now, sandwiching the cordless phone receiver between my head and shoulder as I stirred artificial sweetener into my coffee.
"There's no hitch. He's thirty, just a year older than you are. Never married."
"What does he do?"
My mother hesitated. Teeth, I thought, and then I heard her say, "He's a rabbi."
I laughed out loud. "I don't date rabbis. I don't even like most of them." An exaggeration, but the idea was too ridiculous. "What was Edie thinking?"
"She says he's a real catch, Molly. She wants to set this up quickly, before someone else grabs him."
"Let them grab." Ever since my divorce two years ago, my sister Edie has made it her mission to find my true bashert --- my destined love. It's probably easier to find a Kate Spade bag on a clearance table.
"One date can't hurt. Edie says you know him, by the way."
"Edie probably booked the Century Plaza for the wedding and ordered the flowers for the chuppa." The wedding canopy. "What's his name?" I took a long sip.
"Zachary Abrams. He's --- "
I coughed violently, spraying mocha droplets over my laptop and the papers on my desk. "I went out with Zack Abrams my junior year in high school, Mom. Don't you remember? He French-kissed me." All of which Edie knew. No wonder she hadn't called me herself.
"That's more than I care to know," my mother, the romance writer, said dryly.
"Zack's a rabbi? You're sure?" I was back in his parents' gray Pontiac, steaming up the windows with stuff that would be rated G today, and the memory was quite pleasant, to tell you the truth.
"The rabbi at B'nai Yeshurun is retiring," my mom said, referring to a modern Orthodox synagogue about half a mile from my parents' home. "Zachary Abrams is his replacement. Edie's friend Harriet is a member. She thought of you and phoned Edie this morning."
"You know that's the Hoffmans' shul." The Hoffmans are my ex--in-laws. Since the divorce I've bumped into them several times --- the Orthodox Jewish world in L.A. is small --- and the encounters have been polite but strained.
"I can see that it might be awkward, Molly. But you shouldn't let that get in the way."
"Get in the way of what?" Way too small, I decided.
My mother sighed. "So should I tell Edie no?"
"Tell her yes," I said, surprising myself and my mother, whose "Really?" conveyed the relief of a hostage negotiator braced for failure. "Just for old times' sake."
I had no intention of hooking up with a rabbi, or with Zack, with whom I had unfinished business, but I was curious to see what twelve years had done to him. They had added the hint of a few lines around my brown eyes, an inch to my five feet four, and five or six pounds that, like the tide, ebb and flow but make no discernible change to my topography.
After mopping up the coffee from my keyboard and papers, I refastened my unruly blond hair with a banana clip and tackled the rest of the police reports. An hour later I was done, and after stretching my cramped neck and back muscles and flexing my fingers, I sat down again and accessed the piece I was writing, an update on the chromium six some of us Angelenos are apparently sipping with our lattes. Yes, just like Erin Brockovich --- life imitating art based on life --- but I guess our city council members hadn't seen the movie, because they were planning to study the effects of the chromium for five years before deciding what to do, if you can believe it.
I took out my notes and started writing, but the young hit-and-run victim kept calling to me, saying she had a story to tell. No, I don't hear voices, but sometimes I have a sense about things. I think I get that from Bubbie G, too.
I wondered if the woman had died.
Blues in the Night
- Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Fawcett
- ISBN-10: 044900726X
- ISBN-13: 9780449007266