Monday, December 29, 2014

The Geometry of Discovery

You've been spending time thinking about that remarkable dramatic portmanteau, the novel, for a few weeks now, trying to get enough perspective on your relationship with it to make a number of decisions.

Your first decision has the tin cans of time tied to its tail, these cans clattering as you go about the warp and weft of your time off between semesters.  Soon enough, you will be embarked on a course with some direct relevance to the novel, its shorter form, known as the short novel, if the viewer is a writer or critic who finds the term "novella" offensive.

Among the clutter Lupe has once again set to neatness, during her Monday morning raids against your tendency to scatter, is a list of potential required reading for your course, "The Novella:  Reading It, Understanding It, and Writing It."  This list makes the basic assumption its compiler makes"  There are few novellas as sublime in construction and powerful observations as John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

Your list contains F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Rich Boy, Katherine Anne Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus, Marianne Evans, writing as George Sand with The Lifted Veil, Graham Greene's The Third Man, Nathaniel West's Miss Lonelyhearts,and Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop.  You are also toying with Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and, for your own sense of mischief and fun, Jim Harrison's Brown Dog.

In addressing the content and structure of the course, you have made the connection that for all he wrote long, rambling narratives, Tolstoy also wrote at least one memorable novella and, somewhere in the clutch of books invading the kitchen, there is a volume with the title Three Novellas , which are of course by him.  Thus the recognition, long narrative and short narrative, all satellites of the longer-than-short-story narrative.

There are at least eight, arguably ten novellas in your list of one hundred novels that had memorable and visceral impact on you as a young reader, middle-aged reader, and, now, dinosaur reader, for whom only last year one of the Nancy Drew novels grabbed you.  

This list also contained a significant number of titles to be shelved under mystery/suspense in the library or bookstore.  No surprise, this statistic; you've long nourished the notion of the mystery being the quintessential shape of the novel, indeed shaping the character, setting, and circumstances of the two novels you itch to write.

Somewhere in the recent past, certainly not ten years ago, you came to the conclusion that those particular sub-genre novels shelved under science fiction, where the focus is on alternate universes, are also paradigm for the narrative we think of as fiction.  

Even if it were a mystery or suspense novel, the narrative to emerge would still be alternate universe in the sense of each narrative being a representation of the vision of the writer.  Example:  You are arguably daft.  Not daft in the way Van Gough was, which was probably the daftness of genius.  You are not bat-shit crazy, but daft enough to recognize his own inner daftness.  However well you could paint sunflowers or clouds, there could be no reaching the divine joys of Van Gogh's sunflowers or clouds.

And today, coming upon an American Scholar essay on historical fiction and what choices the historical fiction writer must make, you see how it is possible to see all novels as historical fiction because, even though written in an immediate present, they are about the immediacy of a particular time.

And there is your own universe, in which you had to take plane geometry over and over and over again, through summer schools and junior colleges, just to get the hang of it.  In your universe, this repetition of geometry made the word "thus" one of your habit words, because "thus" represents the denouement of the proof of a theorem.  You did not know at the time that geometry would have yet another effect on you, each time you designed the layout, pagination, and typography of a book.  Such discoveries come from revisiting, fretting.

You are still crazy eager to write those two novels, set now at high bubble on the back burner of your brain.  These novels would be mysteries. Indeed, the protagonist is a private detective.  They would be alternate universe because you have made a few shop fronts on Victoria Street, between Garden and State, different than they are in real life, but the transient hotel in which one character lived, while working at a nonexistent used bookstore, is quite real.  The novels would be histories because they gather traction on made-up events that happened in the past, while at the same time relying on actual historical events.

In many ways, you knew all of this, but compiling your list of a hundred novels, watching it overflow to the point where there are ten novels in the overflow list, and beginning to suspect you might have to kick one of your mentor's novels off the list, all this has caused you to think you are going to have to do something with your list.

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