Page 27


STORIES axcc 7-Any, Anythi _ -You Sa Can LAURIE LYNN DROMMOND—–BOOKS & THE CULTURE Law and Order Lit BY EMILY DePRANG Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You By Laurie Lynn Drummond HarperCollins 272 pages, $23.95 IIIt would be easy to call Laurie Lynn Drummond’s Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You a good first book, but it deserves better. It’s tight, quick, and earnest, full of insider details and excellent dialogue. Drummond, a former police officer and former Austinite, delivers 10 gory, absorbing short stories about policewomen in Louisiana, the best of which stay with you for days. It’s a fast read but not a cheap one, as engrossing as it is educational. She addresses things people want to know, like how cops can remain feeling, thinking people and how anyone gets into that job. Drummond neither romanticizes nor demonizes the people and their work; she is, above all, frank. This rings true and is persuasive. Drummond herself is hard to criticize because when she’s good, she’s very good. But her writing showcases the two great rules of fiction: Write what you know, and show, don’t tell. As with any rules, there are exceptions, but Drummond’s work shows why those rules exist. When Drummond writes what she knows, she is extraordinary. Punchy, lean sentences follow one after another, page upon page. She writes action like an old pro; complicated scenarios fan out easily, and the reader falls into her time frame, whether it is the drawn-out seconds of a stand-off or the too-fast action of a sniper shot. Her dialogue is spot-on, neither contrived nor unfocused. It is a pleasure to follow her and learn from herto learn to sense “how long a body has been a body,” and how to see in the dark: You don’t look directly at objects in the dark. For one thing, staring too hard produces imaginary spots of movement. To locate and evaluate danger you can’t look at it. As I shifted my eyes slightly to the right, the shotgun pointed at my chest came into full focus. Or at least full enough focus for me to rack one into my own shotgun and yell at the others. Want to know what happens next? Of course you do. Drummond engages the mind on many levels. This book will make you late for things. When she shows rather than tells, the reader can hardly keep up. Everything is stimulus and response; there are feelings, but they are an undercurrent racing beneath the action, occurring as naturally within the reader as the cop. Relationships are ambiguous, conflicted, and tender. Cops don’t get to choose with whom they have their crises, and they rarely get to talk about how they feel. When Drummond leaves us in the squad car or at the crime scene, we taste the tension of unexpressed need, and it is riveting. But when she moves beyond the job, into the personal lives of her characters, things fall apart. Long passages of telling replace showing; trite sentimentality replaces the solid sound of hard-won truth. The one story told in second person, “Cleaning Your Gun,” is supposed to be the story of a dramatic near-suicide, but because it is all tellingno dialogue, no action, all thoughts, feelings, and motivationit drags on, giving into cheap manipulation: If [your daughter] were here right now for you to hold, to inhale her warm babyshampoo odor, maybe you would lock up your gun and the two of you would share a bowl of ice cream. You would laugh and giggle, play tickle and tag. We have gone from scenes of pooling blood to a Johnson & Johnson com mercial. There are structural problems, too. The stories are divided into sections named for the policewoman they star- Katherine, Liz, Mona, Cathy, and Sarah. But five policewomen in Louisiana speaking from the first person are apt to blend together. There are a couple of distinguishing characteristics: Mona has cop-father issues, Sarah’s second story is a continuation of her first, and Cathy starts in Victim’s Services before joining the force. They are, it is peripherally mentioned, sleeping with different men. But they are none too distinct, and it is strange to keep up with the different names of their associates who also have so much in common. More confusingly, Katherine has three storiestwo from her perspective with a third told about her by a male cadet. The flip in perspective takes a while to figure out, especially since it is the legend of someone we have so recently been inside. And Drummond undergoes a metamorphosis in style when she leaves the beat. The last story is of Sarah’s retreat to New Mexico after she leaves the force, intended no doubt to serve as denouement for the exhausted reader, 24 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 27, 2005