Monday, July 18, 2011

The G

As you were preparing to embark--quite literally, because embarking meant leaving your then home in Los Angeles--on a career in journalism, a large Cadillac pulled up in front of your parents' home, where you were temporarily lodged.  The large Cadillac was packed to near overflow with the largest collection of stuffed toy animals you'd ever seen in aggregate.

The driver of the Cadillac was relieved to have caught you before your departure to what would have been Calexico, California, a town that by its very name conjures close proximity to the Mexican border.  Had you gone to Calexico, you would have gone with the intent of being a cub reporter at the newspaper, The Chronicle.

Instead, after spirited discussion, you went off with the driver of the Cadillac,your immediate destination quite a bit north of Calexico to Tulare, a city of about fifty thousand, located in Tulare County, which is of not much help to individuals not familiar with the yawning stretch of the interior valley, nor is the information of it being eight miles south of Visalia, although some placement might begin to appear if you were to express its location as being between Fresno, (to the north) and Bakersfield (to the south).  Nor would it matter much that the Tulare County Fair is held every September, but it would and did matter to the driver of the Cadillac.

You began your career as a raw and naive entrant into the world of the carnival in Tulare, California, where your first job was a shill, your  assignment to induce other individuals to play The Wheel of Fortune, a large, vertically mounted wheel that had pie-shaped segments , illustrated with pictures of canned hams, one-pound tins of Maxwell House coffee, slabs of bacon,and gift baskets filled with canned groceries.

The driver of the Cadillac walked you through the carnival midway, showing you The G, or gimmick, for every booth, including the Guess-Your-Age-Occupation booth, and the one where you were to develop your best talents, the baseball throw booth. "Of course the bottles are weighted,"  you would eventually taunt skeptics, "they have three-pound lead weights.  You mean to tell me a man your size can't known down a bottle with a three-pound weight."

There was on actual G, or gimmick, to the juggling acts, although there was--and still is--a physical restriction.  The most objects any juggler has been able to keep up in the air at any time is eleven.  You were taken to see a smooth operator juggling eight rubber balls, another juggler who had six bowling pins in the air simultaneously, and yet another juggler who casually tossed about six live chickens.

There are any number of objects the writer of fiction must keep in the air.  Sometimes, as a classroom exercise, you have been able to number twenty-three or -four elements.  Let us say that there are an even two dozen, things such as plot, dialogue, characters, suspense, backstory, description, and the like.

The G is that they must all be juggled.  No wonder it is such a common observation that there is no such thing as a perfect novel; somewhere there is a flaw, somewhere the writer didn't keep enough things up in the air and some of those aloft fell to the ground with a notable thud.

Fond as you are of Gatsby, much as you relish and admire Huck Finn, indeed, much as you envy Louise Erdrich's ability to keep so many things up in the air at once, there is only one that has come even close to the sublime, where every word works.  Of Mice and Men.  There are many splendid close-but-no-cigar prospects.  In its way, Joe Heller came close with Catch-22;  and do not ignore The Plague of Doves.

Each time a novel comes rushing forth, clamoring for attention, you dive into it the way you watched the jugglers, tossing, catching, tossing, making it seem so simple.

But ah, you know better.

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