It’s Not Supposed to Be This Hard*

Have you ever noticed that there are some myths out there about life? Bear with me and I’ll explain. All of the advertisements and popular-culture outlets present life in certain ways that just aren’t realistic. And because of that people believe that’s how things ‘should’ be. The problem with that, of course, is that it’s not true.

Many people buy into those myths, only to discover later that things don’t work out that way. And that can lead to tension, depression, and more. That’s certainly true in real life. You may even have had the experience of thinking, ‘Why am I struggling so hard with this? It ought to be a lot easier!’ We see it in crime fiction, too. Although it can be damaging in real life, it can also add to the tension and suspense of a novel.

For example, one of the most pervasive myths there is, is that parents of newborns immediately bond with their children in such a fierce way that the challenges of child rearing simply don’t matter. But that’s not true. Caring for a baby is very hard work. We see that, for instance, in Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me. That novel is the story of Yvonne and Gerry Mulhern, who move from London to Dublin with their newborn daughter, Róisín. They’ve made the move so that Gerry can take a new job that’s a real step up for him. This means that he’s gone a lot, so Yvonne does most of the child care. And it turns out to be nothing like the myths of newborns and their mothers. She loves her daughter, but she finds many things a challenge. And it doesn’t help that she really doesn’t know anyone in Dublin. So, she turns to an online forum called Netmammy, where she finds solace and good advice from other new mothers. Then, one of the members of the group drops off the proverbial grid. Yvonne gets concerned, but there’s not much she can do about it. Then, the body of an unknown woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Is it the missing member of Netmammy? If so, this has a lot of serious implications for the group. DS Claire Boyle and her team investigate, and find that the two cases are related, but not in the way you might think.

We also see this myth of the parent/child bond in Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry. Joanna Lindsay and her partner, Alistair Robertson, make the move from Scotland to Alistair’s home town in Victoria, with their nine-week-old son, Noah. The first scenes in the novel take place during the flight. And we soon see just how challenging it is to travel with an infant, and how much harder those myths make it. The baby cries – a lot – and the parents are just as exhausted as any new parents are. Add to that the stress of travel, and it’s little wonder the flight is a nightmare. But there’s this myth that newborns are easy to care for, and that all new parents delight in the myriad tasks that are a part of raising children. And those myths don’t go away as children get older. Most parents do love their children very, very much, but that bond is a lot more complex than the myth would suggest.

So is the bond between partners. A permanent bond between two people requires hard work and commitment. That’s not to say there’s no fun and joy in it. There is. But it’s not easy. Just ask Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her husband, Zack. As of the most recent novel in this series, Joanne is a retired academic, political scientist, and mother/grandmother. Zack is the current mayor of Regina. The two of them have faced a number of challenges, and are both strong-willed. They love each other and are committed to each other. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them all the time. But then, neither was really expecting that the myth of the blissful, uncomplicated marriage could be real.

On the other hand, that’s exactly what Eva Wirenström-Berg, whom we meet in Karin Alvtegen’s Betrayal, was hoping to have. She and her husband Henrik have been married for fifteen years, and have a six-year-old son, Axel. From the beginning, Eva believed in the myth of the perfect, blissful marriage and the ‘white picket fence’ sort of home. But lately, things between her and Henrik have been strained. It isn’t supposed to be this hard, and Eva is hoping that it’s just work stress. But then, she discovers to her dismay that Henrik has been unfaithful. And, in one plot thread of this story, she determines to find out who the other woman is. When she finds out, she makes plans of her own, but things spiral far out of her control…

Another of those myths is the ‘golden life in a new place.’ After all, that’s the reason so many millions of immigrants have made the move from their homes to a new country. But, for many immigrants, no matter which country they choose, it’s rarely as easy is it seems that it ought to be. There’s the language, there’s finding work, there’s educating children, and more. In some cases, such as Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, immigrants end up being highly successful; and in real life, that does happen.

But there are also cases where settling in to a new country and lifestyle is a lot harder than the myths say. For instance, in Robin Cook’s Vector, we are introduced to a taxi driver named Yuri Davydov. In the former Soviet Union, he was a technician working for the Soviet biological weapons program. After the breakup of the USSR, he emigrated to the US, lured (as he sees it) by promises of wealth and great success. But that hasn’t happened. He hasn’t found any sort of job in his area of expertise, so he’s had to take a job driving a cab. He’s completely disaffected, and so, is easy prey for an equally-disaffected group of skinheads who want to carry out a plan of ‘revenge’ – the release of anthrax in New York City. When medical examiners Jack Stapleton and Lori Montgomery become aware of the plot they have to work to find out who’s behind it, and stop the conspirators if they can.

There are many other crime novels that feature immigrants who find that life in their new home is a lot harder than they’d thought. Eva Dolan, Ruth Rendell, and Ausma Zehanat Khan, among others, have all written about this topic. And they’re far from the only ones.

Those myths of how easy it’s ‘supposed to be’ to have a child, sustain a marriage, become a professional lawyer (or doctor, or professor, etc.) are woven into many cultures. And those dreams can be motivating. But the reality is seldom much like the myth. And that can add tension, a plot thread, or a layer of character development to a crime novel.


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Spinfire’s Prove Me Wrong.


Filed under Ausma Zehanat Khan, Eva Dolan, Gail Bowen, Helen Fitzgerald, Karin Alvtegen, Rex Stout, Robin Cook, Ruth Rendell, Sinéad Crowley

16 responses to “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Hard*

  1. I never thought anything would be easy, going in – I just DID IT. I understand though, people thinking – Marriage would be easy, being a parent blissful, blah blah, blah. What I’ve learned, through life is — Hindsight is a wise mistress, HA! I guess with marriage, people get confused, once the bliss has dwindled, the rose-colored glasses have cleared up, and you start to see your partner, and life as it REALLY is… Again, hindsight, great teacher! Would we listen, though, to people who have gone through it? Perhaps not. Sometimes we need to be hit over the head a few times (with that proverbial rubber mallet) to get the point. Again, I like your analytical mind, Margot! Keep it up. 😉

    • Thanks. And I think you’re right about getting hit with that proverbial mallet. Sometimes it does take that sort of thing for people to see things as they really are. I think the myths about babies, about marriage, about… can make that process of coming to grips with reality a lot harder.

  2. Margot: A corollary article might be about anyone who makes “it” look easy – athlete, lawyer, academic, blogger, etc. – is very good at “it”. And I believe innate athletic talent or intelligence are not enough to reach that level of skill.

    • That’s an interesting point, Bill. Whatever ‘it’ it also requires hard work and sometimes some luck. Natural talent helps; but, as you say, it’s definitely not enough.

  3. It is easy to buy into myths like that. And the results can be unfortunate. Stories like The Cry make me uncomfortable to even read about them, so I have not tried any books like that.

    • The Cry is an uncomfortable book, Tracy, in the sense of its topic. So I can see why you would find it, and books like it, hard to read. And you’re right; those myths are hard to avoid. They’re really woven into our culture, so it’s easy to forget that they’re not really true.

  4. kathy d.

    Life itself isn’t always easy. Sometimes one has to put one foot in front of the other and just walk. It’s been harder here for many since the November election and then the January Inauguration. This is especially true for immigrants who came here to find a job, a better life — and then many face discrimination, hostility — and now, detention and deportation.
    Eva Dolan discusses the reality of immigrants in England in her first book, and of Muslims, in her second book.

    • You’re right, Kathy. Life can be challenging sometimes. And then, as you say, it’s important to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think when we forget that things don’t always come easily, that’s when trouble can start, if I can put it that way.

  5. I tend to be of the pessimistic frame of mind, after the principle: if I expect it to be really hard, then if it turns out to be slighly easier, it will feel wonderful! Doesn’t always work, of course. I love pretty much all of the examples you gave, but can’t think of any additional ones.

    • Thank you, Marina Sofia. And there is something to be said for expecting things to be difficult. If it doesn’t happen, one’s pleasantly surprised. If it does, one was at least prepared. That sort of attitude can also spur one to study hard, rehearse a lot, etc..

  6. Col

    Great post again Margot, I’m hoping to read Eva Dolan soon(ish)!

  7. I think I’m quite like Marina and that in turn tends to make things a pleasant surprise. Work can be like this too and in many crime fiction novels we have the promotion through the ranks only for the officer to find that the ‘new’ job wasn’t quite what they wanted…

    • I like that premise/plot thread, too, Cleo. And you’re quite right about work. A promotion, etc., never seems to work out the way you think it will. But, as you say, then when things do work out, it’s fabulous.

  8. This is a great topic Margot, really thought-provoking. I liked the recent Trophy Child, by Paula Daly, where a mother is determined her child will be the best of the best. She is sure that endless attention and extra tutoring can turn her child into a genius. But life is never that simple, is it?

    • No, it isn’t, Moira. And the dynamic between parent and child really shows how complicated and messy things can get in real life. That’s a great example, for which thanks.

What's your view? I'd love to hear it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s