Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Novels & Short Stories: Some Assembly May Be Required

The recent arrival of a  bookshelf ordered on line brought untold resolutions to never again order anything sold with the designation:  Some assembly required.

Such items may well not be a challenge for those who score "high manual skills" on aptitude tests, but they are no friend to you.  In fact, had you been born into the Ice Age, or even the Stone or Bronze Ages, a so-called cave person, you would have been screwed, perhaps even fucked.  "Sorry,"  the leader of the hunting clan would have said, "We were hoping for someone with greater toolmaking and butchering skills.  Perhaps even the ability to throw a spear with accuracy at a considerable distance, woolly mammoths being what they are."

You were able, after some frustrations, able to assemble the bookcase to the point where it holds books without wobbling or sagging, bringing you to the awareness that the next time you see the designation "some assembly required," you will also look for a warning that some swearing may be required.

This is not mere hyperbole.  You often order stories and have recently accepted delivery on a novel.  Assembly is definitely called for in both.  So is swearing.  So it should be.  To get a short story or novel to stand without wobbling or sagging, you need skills of dramatic carpentry and design, true enough, but to get these bits of literary furniture to hold feelings, themes, zeitgeists, this requires the swearing born of anxiety, concern, faith, and a reach across some chasm that separates the known and familiar from the mysterious and transformative.

You would be properly suspicious were any short story or novel assembled by you to emerge in perfect plumb without some swearing or expression of dismay along the process, nor would the occasional kick in the shelves be amiss.  The simple truth is:  There are no instructions for this sort of thing; you must begin afresh each time, as though you faced an impenetrable learning curve, goaded by an equally inextinguishable urge to see the new project through to its wobbly, sagging emergence into the world,  whereupon you would need with some haste to create a shim which could give it greater stability in the eyes of those who would chance to lean upon it.

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