Woman with a Blue Pencil

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What becomes of a character cut from a writer’s working manuscript?

On the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sam Sumida, a Japanese American academic, has been thrust into the role of amateur PI, investigating his wife’s murder, which has been largely ignored by the LAPD.  Grief stricken by her loss and disoriented by his ill-prepared change of occupation, Sam discovers that, inexplicably, not only has he become unrecognizable to his former acquaintances, but also all signs of his existence (including even the murder he’s investigating) have been erased.  Unaware that he is a discarded, fictional creation, he resumes his investigation in a world now characterized not only by his own sense of isolation but also by wartime fear.

To make matters worse, Sam finds himself on a collision course with a Korean American PI with jingoistic and anti-Japanese attitudes — the revised, politically and commercially viable character for whom Sumida has been excised.

Behind it all is the ambitious, twenty-year old Nisei author who has made the changes, despite his relocation to a Japanese internment camp.  And looming above is his book editor in New York, who serves as both muse and manipulator to the young author — the woman with the blue pencil, a new kind of femme fatale.

Reviews

“Woman with a Blue Pencil is a brilliantly structured labyrinth of a novel — something of an enigma wrapped in a mystery, postmodernist in its experimental bravado and yet satisfyingly well-grounded in the Los Angeles of its World War II era.  Gordon McAlpine has imagined a totally unique work of ‘mystery’ fiction — one that Kafka, Borges, and Nabokov, as well as Dashiell Hammett, would have appreciated.”  — Joyce Carol Oates

“McAlpine (Hammett Unwritten as Owen Fitzstephen) once again ventures successfully into metafiction, jumping back and forth between two separate manuscripts while delivering a masterly critique of the mystery novel. Author Takumi Sato must revise the manuscript of his novel about a Japanese-American academic, Sam Sumida…after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. One version of Sato’s novel is a jingoistic tale of American heroism in which all Japanese characters are villains; the other focuses on Sam Sumida, a character who’s no longer allowed to exist, either in the novel or in the United States. Between chapters, readers see the interjections of Maxime Wakefield, Sato’s editor, who urges him to excise any critiques of America, and any mentions of homosexuality and racism, even as Sato himself, as a second-generation Japanese immigrant, is forced to move to an internment camp. McAlpine’s greatest accomplishment is that the book works both as a conventional mystery story and as a deconstruction of the genre’s ideology: whichever strand readers latch on to, the parallel stories pack a brutal punch.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

“… McAlpine has skillfully melded the mood of rage at Japanese treachery and bits of Hammett-era noir with the sensibilities of metafiction and postmodernism into a truly original crime novel.” Booklist

 

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