Saturday, March 13, 2010

A (Not so) Dreary March Evening

What better prospect on a dreary evening than to venture across the broad and foggy expanse of the Minnesota River Valley, with its endless backwaters and leafless trees, to listen to a presentation at the Prior Lake Library about dead bodies unearthed in Irish bogs or on the Mississippi River flats at Hidden Falls.

As you may already have guessed, our local mystery queen, Erin Hart, author of Haunted Ground and the just-released False Mermaid, was going to speak, and she’d brought along her husband Patty O’Brien, the Irish button accordionist extraordinaire, to provide accompaniment. Paddy had recruited two friends of his, Don and Sherry Ladig, to fill out the ensemble.

A few days earlier, as it happens, Don had been telling me about this ad hoc gig on the way back to his house after having defeated me in racquetball 3 games to 1. Of course, I already knew all about it, because my wife Hilary is the branch manager of the Prior Lake Library where Erin was going to speak.

Now, you may be wondering how Don could have beaten me at racquetball 3 games to 1. There’s an answer to that question, but we’ll leave that for another time. Right now we’re going to consider how pleasant it is to go to a reading that isn’t really a reading, but a performance that incorporates music, images, talk, and a few snippets of reading into an intriguing whole.

In the course of her talk Erin spent a bit of time explaining how she developed the elements of a mystery. This wasn’t a technical writerly analysis so much as a description of the intuitive process by which she works up the layers, both contemporary and historical, of her stories. She fleshed out the long tradition of wee folk and silkies in Ireland, and she told a few anecdotes about strange coincidences that had greased the path of her own research. All the while a power-point presentation was going haywire in the background, which lent a pleasingly jagged and poetic air to the event, like a poem by Pierre Reverdy. Erin also did read a few choice passages from The False Mermaid, and the recitation had a subtly compelling theatrical air, as if she were singing softly with pursed lips—as if there were actually mystery and danger lurking in the underbrush.

Meanwhile, the musical interludes took boisterousness and melancholy turns, as Irish music tends to do, and the projected photographs of harbor seals and moss-covered two-thousand foot cliffs added to the haunting feling that we had “passed through the door to the other side” for a minute or two.

More than sixty people from the Prior Lake community and further afield were in attendance, and it was clear from the questions they raised after the talk that they were fans. They were familiar with Erin’s first two novels, and thrilled to have the author herself in their midst. And isn’t this, the presence of a genial, down-to-earth writer (or musician) the most immediate and trustworthy doorway to the other world ... on a dreary evening in March?

No comments: