The Manipulative Missus French: Caïssa in Eternal Shadow
Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, arguably the greatest chess player of all time, played a delightful exhibition match last week at the St. Louis Chess Club. St. Louis has become the chess capitol of the U.S., hosting the last six U.S. championships at the club’s great facility, and the World Chess Hall of Fame across the street—free of charge to visitors. The third floor Bobby Fisher exhibition is something to behold for any Fisher fan—which I have always been. Check them out when in town. St. Louis loves you, Garry! My picture shaking hands with you sits in an honored place on my dresser.
Chess Adds Spice to My Fiction
I mention chess because it is a heavy spice I use to flavor all of my fiction. In my novel, The Lies That Bind (TouchPoint Press, to be published later this year), chess plays a large part in depicting the manipulative nature of Missus Maria Brussard French. The richest woman in the hamlet of Turkle, Mississippi, the townsfolk believe she sits in her mansion suite “playing chess against God.” Well, maybe she is—in a manner of speaking.
Despised and feared by the town, Missus French is definitely reclusive—a tendency of some chess masters—preferring to spend these years of her life sitting in the dark at her chess board, controlling the region’s bankers, lawyers and cotton brokers. There she is surrounded by her dust-covered art and gold—priceless valuables she completely ignores in deference to her chess. Pointedly, her set’s kings are female. Is she merely expressing her power...or something more?
So, too, does she manipulate her son, Devereau French (April 15 blog post), called by everyone “the loneliest person on Earth.” Why so lonely? The main reason is that Devereau and his mother share potentially fatal secrets. The two Frenches are constantly at each other’s throats, both trapped in an explosive mortal mutual enmity. As the pair quarrels, the Frenches’ deceptions unravel, lie by painful lie, secret by turgid secret, propelling many of the novel’s twists and turns.
Know this: Missus French was once a great beauty. Now in her early sixties, even today, she’s still beautiful. Think an aging Cleopatra Yet, she chooses solitude.
Caïssa is the "patron goddess" of chess players, so named from a poem written in 1763 by English poet Sir William Jones. And Missus French is just that, a chess goddess moving people around like chess pieces—especially Devereau. And this is where her obsession with solitude hurts her more than anything. She badly needs to play chess, from which she derives unearthly pleasure. Indeed, in her youth she won handsome purses gambling on chess against wealthy gentlemen. Unfortunately, she finds it impossible to attract high-stakes gamesmen to a backwater nowhere like Turkle. And certainly not to play against a woman.
And this social gender prejudice of the time is a major source of the Frenches’ problems, as you will discover in the story—big time. Readers may not like Missus French, especially because of the way she exploits poor Devereau. However, once you have learned Missus French’s secrets, while you still may despise much that she has done to get where she is, perhaps you will a gain at least a little sympathy for her.
Next Up: We’ll look at a central element of the novel—the unlikely, and risky, partnership between protagonist Durk Hurst and his slave partners, led by Big Josh, and how it speaks to idealized race relations.
In a future blog: I’ll write about the game I invented, St. Louis Chess, a Suzuki-like-method to teach attack and defense strategies to novice and intermediate players. St. Louis chess advances new players’ understanding of the game quickly.
The Lies That Bind:
Published by TouchPoint Press
Represented by Loiacono Literary Agency
Release date to be announced soon!
Ed Protzel’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone. Blog copyrighted by Ed Protzel © 2015.