[Reading Room] The Care And Feeding of Houseplants by Art Taylor

This story won multiple awards in 2013 for Best Short Story and I can see why.

The Care And Feeding of Houseplants is crime fiction, though it’s not clear for a very long time where and when the crime is going to come in…but I didn’t care because the writing was so engaging.

As is often the case in mysteries, the passion at the heart of the story is all about infidelity. As in Thea’s First Husband the husband is complicit in his wife’s decision to stray. Unlike that story, however, this tale is visceral and full of raw imagery. Information is doled out during the story, rather in great gobs of ‘telling’.

In this story we really get inside three out of the four characters’ heads, even when not narrated from their viewpoint: the way the lover views his conquest’s “beige linen business suit…folded carefully across a chair by his bedroom window’ tells us as much about her character as about his self-congratulatory tendencies; the wife comments on her husband’s character during their courtship, saying “He’d brought her an orchid for their first date. He’d typed up tips for taking care of it”, which speaks volumes about both the husband who did these things and herself, who noticed.

I really enjoyed this story. It was more than a mystery, more than a crime: it was a story that pulled me along from the start to the deliciously dark ‘reveal’ near the end. I was, if you’ll pardon the pun, rooting for and against the characters exactly as the author intended, and I loved every minute of it.

[Reading Room] Thea’s First Husband by B. K. Stevens

Thea’s First Husband” was first published in the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and went on to be nominated for Macavity and Agatha Awards

The story is narrated by a woman who seemed to have won the lottery: plucked from behind a bar to marry an older, wealthy man who showers her with gifts and insists she not work any more. Of course, things start to go wrong as the bloom goes off their romance and Edward begins to invite younger men home…for Thea. Eventually she discovers Edward has hired a private detective to follow her around. What will Thea do next?

I was a little impatient with the amount of backstory and exposition the narrator dumped on us at the start of the story and again as the climax was being set up. It wasn’t badly done, it just seemed like the kind of thing all the writing advice columns in the world tell you not to do at all. I did, however, find myself kind of warming to Thea as she went through her dead-eyed days as a trophy wife.

I particularly liked the explanation of her motivation for staying in this loveless marriage. It was nothing dramatic: simply that she was tired of struggling and it was nice to be rich. It was a good reminder that ‘conflict’ in a story—even in crime fiction, which this is—doesn’t have to be dramatic or high-adventure. It can be ordinary and everyday and not remotely noble, as long as it is treated honestly.

I’ve read this story on two different occasions now and didn’t remember the ending, or much about it. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

I was a little surprised this was nominated for awards. It was solid. It didn’t wow me. But apparently it’s good enough to be nominated, so I definitely recommend taking a look.

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