Friday, February 1, 2008

There's a Story in Here if I Can Only Find it.

I was up rather late last night, reading for this week's review column and being pulled into the lateral thoughts of the comparison between the subject of this novel, the American Civil War, and the one raging in Iraq, making the calculus between the number of those contemporary individuals who still favor us being in Iraq in the first place and those wishing us out of there post haste. Thus another American Civil War of sorts, seething, boiling, giving lie to the notion that a watched pot does not in fact boil.

The first reassuring sips of latte at Peet's got my attention but were still not sufficient to get me all the way awake and so I am not a particularly animated contributor to the conversations going on at the table.

Of a sudden, a book appears before me, artfully dropped from above by Jerry Freedman as he moves on to the order line. "You haven't heard of this guy?" he calls from the line.

The book is a paperback reprint of Off Minor by John Harvey.

Never heard of him, I mouth toward Jerry, who, stunned, nearly retreats from the order line, a serious risk now because the place is beginning to fill up big time with those who want to start off their Friday uncranky and if you are not Jonesing for coffee or tea, you have already started your Friday uncranky and cannot possibly relate to those who do, that is unless yo happen to live with one.

"I can't believe," Jerry says, "you don't know him."

This has possibilities. I take another sip of latte, then open the book, whereupon I see added possibilities which set the stage for the dramatic tension and enthusiasm and clash of creative electrons in the linear acelerator that this rag-tag group of writers, teachers, editors, house painters, and retired dentists who have become writers generate.

Soon the subject has shifted to Jerry having spent something like three years in an actor's workshop, a notion that has been a shibboleth of mine for some time. Writers of fiction can profit from actor's workshops, not only in the technique of dialogue, which is its own language, neither English nor street or dialect nor Gullah, nor American; it is the language of story, which is the language of clash, confrontation, development, being caught up in a sense of inevitability. It is the clock ticking in the background, informing the players that action and decisions are necessary. It is the visual presentatio by evocation of the gap between what a character thinks and what the character says.

We all of us agree that Hillary looked pretty good last night. Then, after a beat or two, "But managed."

"There's no there there."

"There is, but it doesn't make you feel it."

"The unreliable narrator."

A chorus of agreement.

He, on the other hand, was not directed. He was on his beliefs and it showed.

"A reliable narrator."

Thus we had shifted to being casting directors.

This was not a surprise, we had all of us cast him some weeks back, and we were thinking character and how character plays out. We were thinking no wonder story is so important because life is merely colliding energy, quarks and atoms and ghosts that creak in the day and night while story has structure, some structure apparent in a fabric of events where there are vectors and agendas sprouting like unwanted hair on middle-aged men.

1 comment:

R.L. Bourges said...

amazon dot com is truly a blessing. Harvey's book rings true, somehow. I hope it ends well for the surviving child. that would be an interesting switch - a believable happy end to a book like that one? (suitably bitter-happy, of course, for the sweet not to be cloying)