Thursday, August 2, 2007

Beating the heat with ice-cold fiction

It's another hot and muggy afternoon in Wichita, which got me thinking about books that feel cold. Not emotionally cold, necessarily, but evocative enough of snow and ice and winter wind to put a chill into even a stifling summer day in the Midwest.

One of the chilliest books I've ever read is "Smilla's Sense of Snow," written by Peter Hoeg in 1993. Here's how it starts out:

"It's freezing --an extraordinary 0 Fahrenheit --and it's snowing, and in the language that is no longer mine, the snow is 'qanik' --big, almost weightless crystals falling in clumps and covering the ground with a layer of pulverized white frost."

And it doesn't get any warmer after that. On this August day, I'm wishing I hadn't loaned that book out. I never did get it back.

How about the other extreme, oppressive heat? One title comes immediately to mind: Robert Wilson's "The Big Killing," set in West Africa. Sweat and humidity drip from every page. If you haven't read it, I'd suggest waiting until sometime next January -- or stocking up on cold beer and antiperspirant.

Any other suggestions for books that accomplish climate change all by themselves?

9 comments:

Peter said...

I recently cited this is a famous opening, and it can do double duty as a climate changer:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind."

A couple of Nordic crime novels I've read have surprised me with weather-related observations because the books are set in the heat of summer.
=======================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Peter said...

Er, cited this as a famous ...

Dave Knadler said...

That Chandler passage is just the sort of thing I'm thinking of. Perfect. For some reason, it makes me think of the movie "Body Heat," wherein air conditioning has not yet been discovered in 1981 Florida.

Peter said...

It's easy to go over the top when using weather to set a scene. Conversely, the device is so widespread that some writers think it's enough to say it was dark and raining. It's a pleasure to find someone who does weather well.

And I like your descrition of Smilla's Sense of Snow as "one of the chilliest books" you had read.
=====================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Peter said...

On the subject of weather: http://criminalbrief.com/?p=141.

==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Sally Crawford said...

Hi, Dave,

I'm still working on that new laptop - as in sorting it out.

It's on my downstairs desk (so at least I can work in one of two places)

but the Li ion battery will not charge up (so I very definitely cannot take it to the park yet)

On your 'One of the chilliest books I've ever read is "Smilla's Sense of Snow," written by Peter Hoeg in 1993'.

Here is another piece of literary art. Read it and you can read it again, perhaps many times, with continued pleasure.

Btw: Google 'treatment' (a way of writing a short plan of your book/play/whatever). Works a treat.

Btw2: it's what every journalist does automatically in an outline - so difficult to transfer those skills to creative work, though, isn't it.

Peter said...

I recently headed a post about Asa Larsson's novel Sun Storm with this excerpt:

"It had turned a little milder. The thermometer was showing minus fifteen ... "

Cole enough for you?
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Dave Knadler said...

I've experienced a few days like that in Montana. Yep, it's plenty cold enough ... nice find.

Peter said...

Sure, the minus 15 may be Celsius rather than Farenheit, but that's still pretty cold. My post also links to some gorgeous photos of the Northern Lights from Sweden. At least there's something nice to look at when you're freezing your ass off up there.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/