In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how important it is for a lot of parents and other adults to pass on traditions. And it is. That’s how cultures are perpetuated, and many families see those traditions as legacies.
As always happens on this blog, the discussion was a lot more interesting than the post itself. And one of the topics that came up was: what about children who don’t choose to carry on those traditions? It’s a good question, and certainly it’s a plot point in a lot of crime fiction. That makes sense, too, since that choice can add interesting layers of character development (to say nothing of plot threads) to a story.
In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), for instance, we meet the members of the Abernethie family. As the novel begins, family patriarch Richard Abernethie has just died, and his family attends the funeral. Afterwards, they gather at the family home, Enderby, to hear the terms of Abernethie’s will. During the gathering, Abernethie’s younger sister, Cora Lansquenet, blurts out that her brother was murdered. At first, that suggestion is brushed aside. But when she herself is murdered the next day, it seems all too plausible. Mr. Entwhistle, the family attorney, asks Hercule Poirot to look into the case, and Poirot agrees. One of the main motives, of course, would be money, since Abernethie was a wealthy man. So, Mr. Entwhistle tries to find out the different family members’ financial situations. At one point, he has a conversation with Timothy Abernethie, brother of both victims. Here’s what Timothy has to say about the family:
‘‘Our father left us all a perfectly reasonable share of his money–that is, if we didn’t want to go into the family concern [a company that makes foot preparations]. I didn’t. I’ve a soul above corn-plasters, Entwhistle!’’
Timothy’s choice to break with the family company tradition means he and his wife, Maude, haven’t had as much access to the family fortune. It’s an interesting look at the later consequences of not staying in the family business.
S.J. Rozan’s Chin Ling Wan-ju, who usually goes by Lydia Chin, is a Chinese-American PI, based in New York City. Her family is very traditional, and her mother in particular would like her to settle down, marry a Chinese man, and raise a family, in the traditional Chinese way. But that’s not what Chin wants. For one thing, she hasn’t found a person she wants as a partner, and she would rather make that choice herself. For another, she likes what she does, although no-one in her family approves. She’s good at her job, too. Because she’s multilingual (mostly using English and Cantonese), she can work with a wide variety of clients. And she knows New York City very well. Breaking with family tradition isn’t always easy for Chin, but she’s almost always content with her choice.
Sulari Gentill’s Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair is a member of a wealthy New South Wales family. At the time that this series takes place (the early/mid 1930s), the worldwide Great Depression is in full force, and millions of people are hard-hit. Plenty of them want major changes in the government and economic systems; some even call for a revolution. The Sinclair family, now headed by Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred, is well-off and politically conservative. Rowly himself isn’t overly interested in politics, but he has plenty of friends on the left, even the far left. And he doesn’t really have a desire to take over the family businesses. Instead, he’s an artist, as are several of his friends. Wilfred doesn’t exactly approve of his brother’s lifestyle, companions, or choices, and he is concerned about the family reputation. Here’s what he says to Rowly about it in A Few Right Thinking Men:
‘‘Why can’t you just drink too much like everybody else’s wayward brother?’’
For his part, Rowly is mostly content with his choices. He can’t bring himself to agree with Wilfred on politics, and certainly won’t be lectured to about his life. The conflict sometimes leads to tension, and that adds to the plots in this series. It also adds to the characters.
Geraldine Evans’ Detective Inspector (DI) Joe Rafferty works with the Elmurst CID in Essex. He’s hardly perfect, but he’s good at what he does, and he likes police work. That career isn’t what his family would have liked, though. Rafferty comes from a large, Irish working-class family, some of whose members are involved in not-exactly-legal ‘enterprises.’
‘His family was the limit, especially as some of them were of the opinion that if they must have a copper in the family, he might at least have the decency to be a bent one.’
Rafferty’s career is tolerated, because it’s convenient to have a police officer in the family when you’re arrested. But in many ways, the family would prefer if he had a ‘regular’ sort of working-class job, ‘like everybody else.’
And then there’s Angela Savage’s Rajiv Patel. When we first meet him, in The Half-Child, Patel is helping out in his uncle’s bookshop in the ‘Little India’ section of Bangkok. His family’s plan is for him to spend some time there, then return to his native India, marry someone of whom his family approves, and settle down there. But that’s not what Patel wants. His dream is to see some of the world, to explore. And he wants to start by seeing a great deal more of Thailand than just the small part of Bangkok where others from India live. So, when he meets PI Jayne Keeney, he’s intrigued. She’s an ex-pat Australian who speaks fluent Thai, and who has had her share of travel experiences. And, when he helps her solve the mysterious death of a young volunteer at a children’s home, he sees an opportunity for the sort of interesting life he wants. He ends up becoming her business partner as well as her partner in life.
Sometimes, making the choice to part with family traditions and expectations has really positive consequences. But it’s never easy to do, even in the best of situations. And it can cause plenty of conflict.
Thanks to those of you who suggested this post: I appreciate the ‘food for thought.’
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick’s Far From the Home I Love.