During the summertime, many busy professionals get caught up on their reading for pleasure. But reading for entertainment can provide a lesson in problem-solving. I explored this topic in the post, How the Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie Can Help You Improve Your Problem Solving Skills, but I was once again reminded of this after I read In the Midnight Rain by Barbara Samuel.
Music biographer, Ellie Connor, goes to Gideon, a small town in Louisiana to write the biography of Mabel Beauvais, a blues artist who disappears on the cusp of success. Ellie is a different kind of biographer. She has the uncanny ability of filling in the gaps to give a complete picture of the person she is writing about. Ellie takes the time to go to the artist’s hometown, talk to people they went to school with, go to the clubs they performed, visualize them living their passion, which happens to be music.
Ellie delves into things to determine what influenced the kind of songs they write. What kind of story is their music telling? And she usually gets unique information because she asks the right questions. Her biographies are rich because she adds context. What was going on during that period of history the person lived in? While writing, she has a piece of their music playing in the background to create the ambiance.
For Mabel Beauvais, Ellie also wants to uncover why and how she disappeared. One of the reasons Ellie chooses Mabel Beauvais to write a biography on her has to do with where the artist is from — Gideon. Diane Connor, Ellie’s mother, died when she was two years old and she was raised by her maternal grandparents. Diane never disclosed who her child’s father is. She was a restless soul and left home quite young, and would send weekly postcards to her parents from many places in the US.
Ellie has a postcard that Diane sent in 1968 from Gideon, the year before her birth. Diane spent three months in Gideon, and it’s the first place she stayed that long in, which is significant. Ellie thinks if she goes to Gideon, she can not only get the information for the biography she is writing, but also learn who her father is.
As the story unfolds, you see Ellie recreating the life of Mabel Beauvais up until she disappears, except for a six-week period that is unaccounted for. That six-week period is a significant clue. While gathering the information on Mable, Ellie finds photos of her mother with other people, some of whom died shortly after in the Viet Nam war.
In the Midnight Rain is a perfect example of a problem solving process. You see Ellie trying to figure out who her father is by the process of elimination, and even though some of her assumptions seem reasonable, even to the reader, they are inaccurate. I allowed that to trip me up in solving Ellie’s puzzle of who her father is. Ellie is able to solve both puzzles: What happened to Mabel Beauvais, and who her father is, now she has to decide what to, and what not to include in the biography.
When going through the problem-solving process, we first have to gather information, but we will never have all the information we need so there will be gaps which we have to fill based on our experience. And we have to decide which information aids in solving the actual problems. Often times when we solve one problem, another is created and we have to deal with that. There is often more than one solution to a problem, and we have to choose based on who the stakeholders are, and how it will impact them.
This summer, choose a few mysteries from your favorite authors, read actively, and try to solve the problem based on the clues you’re given. If you do this often enough, you’ll become a better problem-solver.
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