September 22, 2010

So you want to take the car out tonight?

Flashback...I'm 13 years old and sitting on the upper landing on our staircase. I'm wearing my Mickey Mouse fleece nightgown and socks, of course. I'm listening intensely as my sister and my mom "negotiate" my sister's use of the car for the evening. My mom dictates the usual list of rules which include; curfew, the responsibility speech, no drinking, etc. Then my mom would add on another customized list of requirements. These included comments like; "Remember as soon as you get into the car, lock all the doors...immediately, because someone might try and get in the car" or "If the car breaks down, never open your window more then a crack to talk to a stranger...he might try and harm you" and the ever popular "If someone is following you, drive straight to the police station...let him follow you there." To the 13 year old sitting on the stairs, eavesdropping, driving seemed like a pretty scary proposition.

Fast forward...I'm 16 years old and listening to the same speech - directed at me! Now driving seems not only's overwhelming. Not only do I need to worry about reading road signs and obeying traffic laws, I now have to be aware of every sound as I walk through a parking lot, every headlight in my rear view mirror, and the location of every police station. A little overwhelming for your average 16 year old...but I take the car anyway.

I always wondered what my mother based her speech on? Urban myth, actual stories from friends and family, or reports in the newspaper. She seemed caring, in a very strange way.

After reading Mary Higgins Clark I now know who I can thank for my mom's paranoia. My mother has a total of 13 Higgins Clark books. Lord only knows how many she borrowed from the library over the years. It is pretty clear that her novels influenced my mom's life.

My relationship with Higgins Clark began when I slipped "A Stranger is Watching" off the bookshelf. Unfortunately, the day after I picked up the novel I went out and ended up at the library, with some time on my hands. I had left my book at home. So, logically I searched the stacks for the same book, with no luck. I landed on one of Higgins Clark's other novels "A Cry in the Night". I have mentioned in previous blog entries that I am a pretty slow, slow, slow reader. This book however, took me two days to read. TWO DAYS! I couldn't put it down because I wanted the main survive! I was afraid that if I put the book down, she would be lost without me. It was terrifying. Filled with all the psychological trickery that my mother always warned us of. No wonder my mother made us look suspiciously at strangers...she was educated by a master.

I returned to "A Stranger is Watching". Realistically, I could have read all 13 novels. If it wasn't for the fact that (a) I was exhausted from staying up all night reading and (b) I was exhausted from staying up all night afraid to close my eyes. What a wuss I turned out to be.

To Mary Higgins Clark's credit, these books are masterful. The storyline pulls you in and the reader identifies and feels compassion for the main character. While the reader thinks that they might have everything figured out, there is a "twist". At times you don't even care that you have figured out "who did it". These are serious thrillers. I think the best novels turn into movies in your mind. That is what these books did for me. I was scared but could not look away. If I could have read these books with a hand over my eyes I would have! I can totally understand why my mom had 13 of her novels.

I decided to stop at two novels. For the sake of my children's future. What will my lecture sound like when Madeline asks to take the car out for the night? These novels have taught me that my mom's lectures weren't based on urban myth or actual fact. Her lectures were based on the words and ideas of authors like Mary Higgins Clark.