Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bosch/Haller and the Meaning of Understanding

I understand.

But do I? Do I really comprehend every facet, innuendo and implication of what you are saying? It's not likely. Yes, we speak the same language. We construct sentences in much the same way and use commands and interrogatives in generally the same way. But, ultimately, the words that we use do not mean the same things to every person that uses them.

Consider this: In 1977 or 1978, my Dad had a company car. It was a big white sedan that he liked to call "The Shark." At one point in time, I was leaning over the front bench seat and looking at the controls on the console. I saw the button that said "Rear Def.", pointed at it and asked my Dad if he was going to turn on the Rear Deflector. Countless screenings of Star Wars and Star Trek re-runs had already rotted my brain. After several attempts to get herself under control, my mother revealed to me that the "Def." actually stood for defroster, which Dad would use to melt the ice on the back window if he needed to. I was chagrined, but happy I learned something new.

The point is, when I talk about defrosters now, whether they be in cars, or freezers, or on the space shuttle, I remember that incident. Tied into it are feelings about big American cars, my parents, the wonder of youth and my decades-long relationship with Star Trek, Star Wars, and Sci-Fi in general, which really gets into warm fuzzies about my Dad.

All of this is contained in that one word for me. That is what I bring to it. So, even though you and I are using the same word, and getting the message across, the sentence has more meaning for me than it does for you. Or maybe just a different meaning. Maybe you have your own defroster story that you think of every time you hear the word. But whatever it is, you're bringing a different set of experiences to the word than I am. The true meaning is lost in translation between psyches.

So, do we really understand each other? Can we possibly? No, not fully. But we can enough to get along, to agree or disagree, to connect or admit that we simply don't see things that way.

And art is the same way. We all have our own levels of education, especially about the medium we're working with. We all have our own unique experiences to draw upon. All the images, sounds, words that we see have their own set of connotations and relationships exclusive to us embedded in them. It's what we bring to the table. Like any form of communication, art is imperfect in its ability to relay truth. But it is also more effective at relaying the sense of truth, the underlying message trying to be expressed, than any straight-forward exclamation can do.

This is what connects with people, the sense of truth, the idea that a common truth is at the root of our uncommon understandings. We like to attempt to look through other's eyes and be comforted that what we see is essentially the same as what we see.

All this to say, I listened to the audiobook of LINCOLN LAWYER sometime late last year or earlier this year. I didn't see what the big deal was. But what I didn't know was that Mickey Haller, the protagonist of LL, was Harry Bosch's half-brother. I guess it was explained off-handedly in the book somewhere, but it didn't mean anything to me at the time because, worse still, I didn't know who Harry Bosch was.

Then, later on, I decided to give Connelly another chance. I listened to THE NARROWS. This, I loved. I thought the mix of third-person and first-person was used effectively, unlike certain other authors I had seen use it. I liked the mixture of real-life and fiction, with the book and movie of BLOOD WORK mentioned. I liked that he brought together the threads of three different narratives that had already been explored in his previous books, at the same time opening Harry Bosch's world and acknowledging that they were all taking place in the same continuity.

I was hooked.

As I do with my new discoveries on CD, I went back to the beginning. I read BLACK ECHO and liked it. I moved on to BLACK ICE, and now I discover that Haller's back story was seeded all the way back here. Haller and Bosch share a father, but their experiences with him couldn't have been more different. Again, they have a common thread, but they don't understand in the same way.

But I think I understand something a little more now. Connelly's fans had followed Bosch for 11 books prior to LINCOLN LAWYER and had a familiarity and fellowship with him by then. There is a thing about family, especially fictional families, whom we seem to be able to accept with flaws much easier than our own. And people were not only ready for a Mickey Haller book, they were welcoming it and eager to embrace it.

With this in mind, and a future reading of the book (in book form, this time) on the horizon. I find myself anticipating it, as well. I look forward to the comparisons between Haller and Bosch. I wonder what Bosch might have been if he had known his father. And what he ended up being despite it.

2 comments:

jtknyu@mac.com said...

Connelly's latest, THE BRASS VERDICT, brings Bosch and Haller together again, and in the end knowingly together. As a Hieronymous, Inc. fan I enjoyed it. However, lets remember that the much missed King of procedurals, Evan Hunter, used the device first when in LAST BEST HOPE his sleuths from two different series, Hope and Carella, joined forces. I couldn't help feeling sad as I read BRASS VERDICT knowing we won't be learning any more new tricks from Ed McBain.

Jared said...

I haven't dipped into Ed McBain much. Again, it was on CD with an 87th precinct novel, but he is definitely on my list of get to know better.