• September 26, 2021

Great Fiction: The Last Time You Left By Kelly Braffet

Kelly Braffet’s Last Seen Game (2006)

Something that never ceases to amaze me about TV shows like Cold case files and Forensic files It’s how often, over incredibly long periods of time, horrible crimes go unsolved. Most people are familiar with the Black Dahlia case, perhaps the most famous unsolved murder of all. Modernism took a long time to catch up with fiction; Until about twenty or thirty years ago, in the literary genres of mystery and thriller, cases like Dahlia’s never appeared. Even in detective fiction that functions as serious literature, such as Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels, all loose ends are tied up, all I’s are dotted and t’s are crossed at the end of the book. We look for closure and resolution, and we tend to get frustrated if we don’t get it. On Last seen Kelly Braffet offers us a murder and disappearance account that leaves us hanging like a cold file. In an interview with Scott Snyder around the time this novel came out, Braffet spoke about his insight into secrets and the ultimate inability to understand someone else’s motives and behavior.

He also spices his novel with a rather original blend of cutting-edge philosophy and observance of contemporary youth culture, questionable areas of foreign policy and parent-child relationships, and the magnetic appeal that the possibility of danger and harm seems to have for some people. She is as comfortable with Nietzsche and Heidegger as with video games and lipstick.

Speaking of Nietzsche, one of the main philosophical concepts that scholars and researchers have always associated with him is that of Nihilism – a word that seems to have different meanings depending on the thinker with whom we are using it in context. Nietzsche was a metaphysical nihilist, believing that deep down, in the final analysis, life had no meaning and that, in our attempts to understand it, we simply cast psychological projections onto the blank white canvas of the universe. The scientist presents science as the Maximum Truth, the artist presents art as the Maximum Truth, the religious person presents religion as the Maximum Truth; All of these are simply coping mechanisms that humans invent to try to defeat nihilism. Last seen Examine this point sharply, in a passage where we meet a character named Seth, a beach bum, and we philosophize:

In Seth’s real life, the non-summery part that had nothing to do with waiting tables or brushing the sand off her sheets so he could get into bed with her, was a graduate student who read thick books with small print and no characters. . He taught the eighteen-year-olds about Heidegger and Nietzsche. He ate sushi, went skiing in Vermont, and was writing a dissertation on Being and time.He didn’t think any of the girls he knew in that life had dragons tattooed around their navel.

The “she” who has these thoughts is Miranda Cassidy, one of the two main characters in the book (the other is her mother, Anne); The point is that a true Nietzschean – perhaps Seth is, since he seems to truly savor the whole experience – would not divide his life into this life and that life, real life and beach life, work life and life. playful, etc. . – your life is simply an integrated thing, not something you can cut into sections like a fruit. Therefore, Miranda is a representative of a different type of nihilism, which is generally called Russian nihilism, a belief system in which young people despise the beliefs, values ​​and attitudes of their elders. This is pointed out in a later second passage about Miranda and some of her friends:

“They consider themselves creatures of the world, tough, brutal and unshakable. They listen to dark angry music, watch dark angry movies, collect dark angry comics. They read Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick and Mervyn Peake: To them, the modern world is nothing more than a pale imitation of the dystopian universes they read about …

Then they wait. Meanwhile, they jealously guard their disappointment and their trappings, because as far as they are concerned, either you understand it or you don’t, and if you don’t, you better not act the way you do. Their disappointment is all they are sure of, and they don’t want it to be used lightly. “

You might ask what are these kids so disappointed in? The answer is the same as the answer to quite a few key questions the book raises: We don’t know. In a way, Braffet follows the kind of strategy used by Paul Auster in the novel Glass city – a crime story, a mystery, that is unsolved and unsolved, all questions and no answers. However, in another way it opens up an equally mysterious avenue of plot and character that depends, for its effect, precisely on our knowledge of it as mysterious: the CIA covert operations in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. Braffet’s novel, I felt somewhat fortunate to have been acquainted with a major American novel about the CIA in Latin America from the 1980s, that of Robert Stone. A flag for the dawn as well as Tina Rosenberg’s 1991 non-fiction short story Children of Cain: violence and violence in Latin America, which helped me appreciate Braffet’s work much more. Braffet is excellent for taking a look at the horrors that lie beneath the mouth of the volcano. This methodology is attractive to us as readers because we know that the author knows much more than she lets on, that her knowledge of such things is solid enough to allow her to write about them in a minimalist way with confidence and plausibility.

Anne Cassidy is a middle-aged mother living in Arizona, and she moved there from the Pittsburgh area years ago when her husband Nick, a pilot employed by an enigmatic and mysterious company called Western Mountain, falls into his plane while flying in a mission over Central America. and was never heard from again. (Significantly, wreckage from the aircraft is never found.) Her rebellious daughter Miranda originally accompanies her out west, but returns to Pennsylvania as soon as she is old enough to be alone. There, she disappears one night after crashing her car, picked up on the road by a passerby named George who has an unusual interest in her. She takes a walk with him and somehow ends up in a Virginia seaside town.

Meanwhile, Anne, after not speaking to her daughter for many months, begins to get frantic when her many calls to Miranda go unanswered. The sense of dread and threat is increased several points by the involuntary mocking salute on Miranda’s answering machine: “You know what to do.” Here, this fairly common greeting goes from being a simple everyday phrase to a reminder of Anne’s helplessness: she no know what to do. After a few days of frantic calls, Miranda’s phone number is taken down and Anne gets on a plane to go find her. She only encounters dead ends, and a detective named Romansky (a holdover from the detective stories of yore, a helpless Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, say the name Romansky very slowly to yourself) tells her that her daughter is probably just has moved. no foul play involved. Anne won’t have it, and when she’s granted access to Miranda’s vacant apartment and discovers how to listen to her phone messages, she finds a series of messages from a boyfriend named Jay that become increasingly drunk and obnoxious. Naturally, he fears the worst.

Nevertheless, U.S I know that Miranda is, at least in appearance and for now, fine; After a while, Braffet begins to tell the story in sequences that alternate between Anne’s search for Miranda, Miranda’s slums on Virginia Beach with her lazier friends, and flashbacks showing Anne, Nick, and Miranda. like a family in earlier and happier times. But just as there is a high element of anguish to Anne’s search for Miranda, there is also one surrounding Miranda and the city of Lawrence Beach: a serial killer has been murdering young women in the city, their bodies going washed up on shore, and there are constant suggestions that George might be the killer. Later, we see that George has possible connections to Miranda’s long-lost father.

Miranda and Anne are shown to often disagree, argue, misunderstand, get frustrated, behave differently, and have different perspectives on Nick’s death / disappearance. Braffet highlights this in two striking contrasting passages that symbolize the differences in the “soul content” of mother and daughter. First, about Miranda:

“When he was driving, he liked to think that he was connected to a huge and powerful machine. As in science fiction: the nervous system of the car was joined to his through the sole of his right foot.”

About Anne (who, by the way, works in a New Age store and is interested in all kinds of New Age spirituality and healing):

“She imagines herself in Sedona, standing barefoot on red dirt, with a mysterious energy that resonates through the soles of her feet and spins within her, filling her with something pure and real.”

They both channel energy through your feet, which makes them similar, but one does it through the throttle of the car, the other through the dirt on the ground, which makes them different, incredibly different. Your attempts to establish genuine emotional contact are, perhaps, doomed to failure.

This novel has intensely interesting supporting characters, primarily including a fellow Nick’s pilot named X-ray and Miranda’s juggling boyfriend named Rainier, and it also makes very sophisticated use of scenes that are not really related to the main action but suggest, comment and stand next to him. To take just one example, one morning Anne finds a dead man in her car in the parking lot of the store where she works. He had been a customer the day before, buying a book titled Heal yourself with the chakras. The whole situation is itself absurd, ironic, sad, funny with a very dark humor, meditative and sensually fascinating (Braffet’s writing is very hearing-oriented, it is based on sound), but it works in another way: we give the closing we long for it, but it does so on a wholly incidental character and therefore does not satisfy us at all. It takes some courage to write this way, and Braffet is up to the challenge.

In this novel mood and atmosphere, in my opinion, they prevail over the desire to write a “well done story” in the Aristotelian sense, and it is a refreshing approach that probably more authors should put a spin on. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t succeed with traditional narrative elements like characterization, because it does. And I think a mix of the modern and the traditional, well done like this, is always welcome.

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