Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Books for Writers: Alliterate Monsters

Ask Dexter daddy Jeff Lindsay about his favorite authors and he might offer historical-fiction writers Patrick O’Brian and Conn Iggulden. Might? Nay. In fact he did answer thusly when posed the question by the Australian Literature Review in March. Chatting with that publication's Grant Hyde, Lindsay opined he enjoys the technical skill and detail with which O'Brian and Iggulden write.
“Every time I read Patrick O’Brian I learn something new technically,” Lindsay told Hyde. “Patrick O’Brian writes not just a great series but some of the greatest literature.” (Australian Literature Review, March 11, 2011)
Lindsay is the now-wealthy creator of Dexter Morgan, a helpful madman who inhabits a series of mystery novels and a successful series on Showtime. Morgan is a psychopath, driven to kill but kept in check by promises pandered to his dying stepfather, Harry the Cop. As a result, he kills only killers, with a particular panache for the pain of pedophiles.

Lindsay has never, in no interview this reporter can discover, mentioned former boxing coach Vladimir Nabokov as the primary source of Dexter's literary DNA but the link betwixt Lindsay's merry monster Morgan and preppy pedo Humbert Humbert is nigh undeniable.
In creating Dexter, Lindsay has quite obviously been affected by Nabokov's idea that the monsters among us must be cool, calm, urbane and erudite. For example, both Lindsay and Nabokov have given their creations an aptitude for alliteration that quite outshines we mundane.
At one point, narrator Humbert says in his description of an ill-fated love affair from his younger days: “There on the soft sand, a few feet away from our elders, we would sprawl all morning, in a petrified paroxysm of desire, and take advantage of every blessed quirk in space and time to touch each other ...” (Lolita, page 12)
Some 50 years later, dashing Dexter borrows happy Humbert's technique to show the reader how witty is he: “You may say that dear diligent Dexter gets carried away, but I like to be thorough, and I like to know where all the blood is hiding.” (Darkly Dreaming Dexter, page 54)
Humbert Squared gets his pantaloons pumped again, on praising his parenting practices: “With her right hand holding her left arm behind her untanned back, the lesser nymphet, a diaphanous darling,  would be all eyes, as the pavonine sun was all eyes on the gravel under the flowering trees ...” (Lolita, page 163.)
Toting up a time-delayed second, Dexter offers: “Friday night. Date night in Miami. And believe it or not, date night for Dexter. Oddly enough, I have found somebody. What, what? Deeply dead Dexter dating débutante doxies?” (Dexter Dreaming Darkly, page 55)
Nabokov made his Humbert an educated man, fluent in French. Humbert often exhibits his skill to the reader: “To our games, oddly enough, she preferred —at least before we reached California—formless pat ball approximations—more ball hunting than actual play—with a wispy, weak, wonderfully pretty in an ange gauche way coeval.” (Lolita, page 162.)
Not to be outdone in this monster match up, Lindsay gives Dexter fluency in Spanish, which the killer also demonstrates in his remonstrations: “A sullen young woman moved in and out, doing a brisk business in cafe cubano and pasteles with the cops and technicians on the scene.” (Darkly Dreaming Dexter, page 25)
In the world of monsters, however, motive means more than deed or speech. Actions and speech   can lie, while mind may not. Nabokov gives Humbert the ability to notice and capture detail in a way that makes one wonder if HH views the world through a perpetual acid trip: “A normal man given a group photograph of school girls or Girl Scouts and asked to point out the comeliest one will not necessarily point out the nymphet among them. You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine [in order to pick her out].” (Lolita, page 17)
Mr. Morgan manifests a similar power: “I had been waiting and watching for five weeks now. The Need had been prickling and teasing and prodding me to find the one, find the next, this priest. For three weeks I had known he was it, he was next, we belonged to the Dark Passenger, he and I together.” (Darkly Dreaming Dexter, page 2)
Our “heroes'” super sight is not limited to prey possibilities; they seem to possess a profound situational awareness: “She dabbled in cretonnes and chintzes; she changed the colors of the sofa—the sacred sofa where a bubble of paradise had once burst in slow motion within me. She rearranged the furniture and was please when she found, in a household treatise, that it is 'permissible to separate a pair of soft commodes and their companions lamps'.” (Lolita, page 78)
In this area alone is Dexter perhaps more poetic: “The moon was visible over the water. For some reason, I could not explain that seemed so right, so necessary, that for a moment I just looked out across the water, watching it shimmer, so very perfect.” (Darkly Dreaming Dexter, page 147)
If Lindsay borrowed the above, then he borrowed more, for there is more to tell. Humbert and Dexter fancy themselves to be smarter than the average human, while being fully aware of their own monstrous natures. They spend long periods of time in thought, allowing readers to see very turn and tumble of their brains. They find power in darkness and glory in their depravity but fear the light.
The sad fact is though: Humbert may be the more skillfully crafted monster, but Dexter would kill him on sight.

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