I always love getting inspiration from you folks who are kind enough to read this blog. For me, it’s one of the best parts of blogging, really. The other day, I got a terrific idea for a post from crime writer and fellow blogger K.B. Owen, who writes the historical Concordia Wells series. Her novels reflect the end-of-the-19th-Century culture in which they take place, and her blog has all sorts of interesting information on that time period. You’ll definitely want to check out her site and her books.
K.B. suggested this post’s eponymous song lyric as something to think about, and she’s absolutely right. We all get the message at some point or other that we should ‘grow up,’ or ‘act our age.’ And in some ways, that makes sense. At a certain point in life, we do need to take adult responsibility for what we do. We also need to learn the adult skill of thinking beyond our own perspectives and desires, and consider others. In other ways, too, we need to learn to behave in adult, socially-acceptable ways, given our cultures.
But sometimes, ‘Act your age!’ doesn’t refer to that kind of maturity. It means, ‘Behave in the ways that are stereotyped for your age group.’ And that can be limiting. Is it really so important to stop reading children’s literature just because you’re not longer chronologically a child? Do we have to stop using crayons and markers because we’re adults? Why not blow bubbles or watch a beloved cartoon film?
Certainly this question of how we’re ‘supposed to’ behave comes up in crime fiction. Here are just a few examples to show you what I mean; I know you’ll think of lots more.
Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole is a grown man who has a successful L.A. private detection agency with his partner Joe Pike. In many ways he behaves like an adult, takes adult responsibility for what he does, and so on. But he owns and wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, and has a Pinocchio clock in his office. Is that a case of ‘not acting his age?’ I don’t see it as a problem, and neither does he. In fact, there’s an interesting contrast between his maturity and that of a client in Lullaby Town. In that novel, Cole is hired by famous Hollywood director Peter Alan Nelson to find his ex-wife Karen and their son Toby. After years of self-involved immaturity, during which he simply didn’t want to be responsible for his share of marriage and parenting (hence, the breakup), Nelson has decided he’s ready to be a parent. Cole knows it’s not that simple, even if he does find Karen and Toby. But he finally agrees to take the case. It turns out that finding his client’s ex-wife and son is only the first part of quite an adventure for Cole and Pike. And the novel shows some interesting perspectives on what ‘counts’ as ‘grown up.’
Hannah Dennison’s Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall features former journalist Katherine ‘Kat’ Stanford, who’s living with her mother, Iris, in the former carriage house on the estate of Honeychurch Hall. She’s gotten to know the Honeychurch family (interested readers should check out Murder at Honeychurch Hall for the details), and struck up a sort of friendship with seven-year-old Harry Honeychurch, son of the present earl. Harry’s been sent away to school, as many boys of that social group are. But he’s miserable there and keeps coming back to his home. Kat gets involved as Harry’s parents try to work out what the best choice is for their son, and it’s an interesting debate. Just how ‘grown up’ should a child be before going away to school? At what point is a child supposed to ‘stop acting like a kid?’
Older people, too, are often expected to behave in a certain way, and that can be at least as limiting. For instance, Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Myrtle Clover is a former English teacher who’s now in her eighties. Her son, who’s the local police chief, really wishes she would ‘act her age,’ and do things such as knit, work crossword puzzles, get involved in church activities and so on. Certainly he doesn’t want her investigating crime. But Myrtle is absolutely not ready to be put out to pasture, as the saying goes. She wants to be as independent as ever, and has no interest in being restricted to doing things older people are ‘supposed to do.’ So there’s an interesting ongoing tension in this series between Myrtle and her son. From his perspective, it’s a matter of keeping his mother safe; after all, criminal investigation can be very dangerous. From her perspective, it’s a matter of self-determination and not being condescended to, just because she’s elderly.
Michael Redhill/Inger Ash Wolfe’s Emily Micallef doesn’t want to be condescended to, either. She is the octogenarian mother of Redhill’s sleuth, Port Dundas, Ontario, DI Hazel Micallef. Emily has retired from service as Port Dundas’ mayor, but that doesn’t mean she wants to slow down. As one example, she plays poker regularly, and as she tells her daughter,
‘We don’t play for nickels…’
There may be people who don’t think that regular poker nights (and subsequent morning-after hangovers) are ‘acting your age’ for an eighty-plus person. But Emily Micallef doesn’t really care very much whether people think she’s behaving like an elderly woman ‘should.’
And then there’s Derek B. Miller’s Sheldon Horowitz, whom we meet in Norwegian by Night. He’s an eighty-plus former New Yorker who’s moved to Norway to be nearer his granddaughter Rhea and her Norwegian husband. Instead of settling into life as an old man living with his granddaughter, Horowitz gets drawn into a series of adventures when he inadvertently witnesses the murder of a young woman. He rescues her son, and they go on the lam, since the killers are probably going to go after the boy next. Horowitz certainly doesn’t ‘act his age,’ if you go by stereotypes of what elderly people are ‘supposed to’ do. But that doesn’t stop him.
It’s all very well (in fact, important) to develop some maturity about some things. But is there anything really wrong with hopping on a hopscotch pattern or making a paper plane? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just got this great set of crayons… Thanks, K.B.!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Prince’s Kiss.