Monday, December 15, 2014

I Suspect, You Suspect; He, She, or It Suspects

Difficult as it is to ignore the proper place of suspense within most stories and the mystery in particular, the ease with which suspicion becomes swept under the carpet leaves you with a jolt of fear.

Speaking of difficulty, you conduct uneasy searches to retrieve the date (or dates) of your first acquaintances with this most complex of emotions.  So far as you are concerned, suspicion has fear built into it, like air bags in new cars.

 With your experiential and thought processes whirring away from your early years, then gaining traction as you worked (some would say blundered) you way through teens into the twenties, you began to grab hold of the one piece of real estate that cannot be taken from you:  Things aren't always what they seem to be.

The passing of time adds more velocity and substance to this belief.  The mantra is edited.  Now, nothing is what it appears to be.  Perhaps, in the richness of time, you will be able to express that sentiment with even more terse effect.  This world view, which gives you the surface complexion of a misanthrope and pessimist, helps you define and understand that state of being called story, for what, in fact, is story when the things within it are no more and no less than what they seem to be?

There are advantages to be had in support of beliefs supporting uncertainty and its bedmate, suspicion.  For starters, you join your brother and sister readers by your readiness to question the state of any given noun, any person, place, or thing.  In stories of mystery and detection, you join brother and sister readers by regarding most facts presented to you as clues which have been embedded with a measure of cleverness to disguise their intent of providing a platform of logic which will lead to the perpetrator.

However a mountain goat leap of logic it may seem when you 1) try to identify a fact as a fact, 2) identify a fact as a clue, and 3) identify the clue as relevant to the solution of the mystery, much of the early stories you were fed, as an impatient young reader, then as an English major, were too logical in their build toward a sense of dramatic closure.  

You could hear a ticking in the motor, but you could not identify it.  Only in the most recent years are you able to say to your own satisfaction that many of the early novels you read were too logical in their outcome, could, in fact, have no other real outcome than what they did.

You wanted Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe to marry Rebecca, the daughter of Isaac of York; you wanted The whale to get away in Moby Dick, you wanted Natty Bumpo and Chingachgook to get on each other's nerves in The Pathfinder, and you wanted Penelope to whack Odysseus over the head with his own sword at least once when he came back home in The Odyssey.  

In each case, you wanted these outcomes because they seemed more lifelike.  This is another way of saying you found many endings, many English endings too contrived, too arranged.  The French and Russians had it all over the place for more convincing, satisfying endings.

Along these lines, even though your favorite novel, the desert-island book of your choice, Huckleberry Finn, has an ending you like, with Huck striking out for the territory ahead because the aunts want to civilize him and he cant's stand the thought of it.  But you hate the fact that Twain felt the need to bring Tom Sawyer in toward the end, to undo much of the splendor he had set in motion.  Here Twain was, within the framework of one novel, his absolute best sustained narrative in fiction, changing forever the course of the American novel, setting in motion a serious rivalry between American writers to come and English writers to come.  But it grew too much for him; he had to bring Tom into it, returning much of the last fifth or sixth back into being a boy's book, and a romanticized version of boys at their worst, at that.

Thus Huck is not everything it seems to be, yet it is enough.  Even here, seeing that Tom is returned, there is the suspense of what Tom will do to steal the scene--make that scenes--from Huck.

You're at your happiest while reading and writing when you begin to suspect you know how things are going to turn out, which leads you to the next plateau of suspense.  In authors you cherish, the next plateau on the way is the one where you realize you've jumped to a conclusion fueled by logic, thus your overall-but-guarded suspicion of logic so far as it relates to story and human behavior.

The best example of this balance for you is in the hammerklavier music of J.S. Bach, notably Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavichord, and the first of Die Goldberg Variotionen, The Goldberg Variations..  In each of these, you find a kind of logical precision and development, but each as well produces a strong, emotional sense of presence.  

Bach knows how to achieve emotive beauty in orderly progression and development.  When you need a sense of balance and harmony, you take yourself to Bach the way Ishmael took himself to the sea when he felt a bout of depression advancing on him.

You look for order and logic in story, but as well, and in the same story, you look for the pauses, hesitation, and the suspense of stolen time or key signatures that makes music so effective in producing feeling as well as structure.  Life, in spite of our efforts to govern it, is largely random, our attempts at taming it producing a rough ride.  We turn to reading and music to show us some rules of order which we strive to understand, at the same time having our heart broken by the tragedy or our spirits lifted by such ventures as John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, or Ludwig Beethoven's sublime Symphony Number Nine in D Minor.

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