Just finished Jack Cady’s wonderful novel, THE RULES OF ’48. A tale about a series of deaths that occur in Louisville, Kentucky in the summer and fall of 1948, and how it impacts a group of characters who work at an auction house.
But it’s not a murder mystery. I found this jarring, at first, but soon realized you’d ruin the novel if there was “a killer on the loose!” and detectives and all that jazz. The novel, which is part memoir, is instead an investigation of how these kinds of traumas send out ripples through society, good and ill. It’s also a novel about changing racial attitudes, and the ugliness of hate in cities that are confronted with the reality of WWII and trying to move forward when others would prefer the good old days of segregation never change.
The novel doesn’t have a single viewpoint character, but about four central ones, and their kids. It didn’t end with a bang, but a powerful meditation. Lots of flash back chapters on the dead characters. And, most engaging of all, it was told in distant third person. Basically, Jack Cady told us this story with his great storytelling voice. Not the voice of any of the characters, but of someone who remembers what the world of the city was like in 1947, and how it survived.
In short, it does a few dozen things beginner writers are told not to do (and maybe for good reason). And because Cady is so good, it’s a seamless treasure that doesn’t read like a carbon copy genre novel.
Sometimes, I worry that in the drive to publish and generate our careers, one can rely on stock plot and character, can repeat themselves, can write a first draft and think it good enough.
And then you read a minor classic from a writer at the height of his power, and you see possibilities, rule breaking, and wonderful writing that inspires you to work harder, think deeper, and challenge your own assumptions.
Thanks, Jack. You’re an inspiration.