Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Victor Frankenstein, M.D., Patron Saint of Failed Novelists

When you began reading accounts of parties, ceremonies, or gatherings involving writers, you became quite convinced they must be the most adventurous and remarkable events possible.  You yearned to attend one, made doing so a primary goal of your younger years.  Reading of such events brought visions of drunken poets, reciting new work, arguments about the richness or paucity of ideas, romantic intrigues, and of course, feuds, fueled by alcohol and jealousy.

At the time, you were reading the works of volatile men and women, such as Dorothy Parker, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, John O'Hara, Ring Lardner, and John Steinbeck, all of whom understood the dramatic requirements imposed on writing scenes, and so, why wouldn't their party scenes reflect the kinds of combustion you so craved to experience.

When the time came, and you were invited, and the host was a literary agent, and the invitation had those evocative initials, BYOB, you were ready for the first of what you hoped would be life altering experiences.  You went, all ears and eyes, on your best behavior, determined to ingest, observe, learn, and be invited to countless other such parties, confident in your received knowledge that the literary party would be your medium.

This party was a complete disappointment, reminding you of painful earlier junior high school and high school dances, where the participants occupied opposing sides of a large room, eyeing one another like sheep ranchers and cattle ranchers in a dreary Western film.  

Among the night's excitements, quite a few Ritz crackers were unintentionally ground into a segment of carpeting, a science fiction writer mistakenly thought you were pouring from his bottle of Scotch whisky, and threatened to punch you in the nose.

Being of college age, you'd begun to experience parties where the dominant theme emerged from the changing chemistry of the punch bowl, which in its way had an influence on the erotic atmosphere of the evening.  This was all well and good, except that there were no science fiction writers threatening you, only one or two writers at your level.  Fun, but not the excitement you'd hoped for.

By the time you'd befriended the poet, Kenneth Rexroth and invited to the parties at his rambling home in a clump of small houses off East Valley Road in Montecito, you had managed to get your fill of parties involving writers of some stature and cantankerousness.  You'd done most of your serious drinking by then, more content to wander, observe, converse, and, if the occasion arose, offer argument.  On the party night you have in mind, you were about two glasses of wine in, more fascinated with a large platter of cheese and olives than any potential feuds, recitations, or flare-up of jealousy.

In the kitchen, where you knew there to be a supply of paper plates, you happened on the scene of a writer who'd had one break-out novel and a critical acclaim under his belt before hitting a spell of reviews using the t-word, t as in trivial.  "What you see before you,"  he said to a younger lady seated across from him at the kitchen table, "is a failed writer."

This seemed to have the right effect.  The young girl grabbed both his hands, leaned to kiss them.  On occasions where you were more than two glasses of wine in, you might have well given yourself over to that same meme of being a failed writer.  At the time, the concept of a failed writer had a different meaning to you, embossed in desperation.  

This writer was using these words to achieve the very scenario that was playing out.  You, however, although moved by your own self-pity, were wrenched away by another failed writer, one of the two narrative points of view in Mary Wollstonecraft's provocative novel, Frankenstein, or The New Prometheus.

Thinking of that long-ago evening, of the failed writer narrator of Frankenstein, and some of the work you have at hand and in mind, you see a connection with Doctor Victor Frankenstein you'd have not have thought possible.  Your mind takes you to the snowy Arctic Circle, where Dr. Frankenstein is chasing his creation, one he rarely called by name, rather by an it or the monster.  If your memory holds, it was the monster who told Dr. Frankenstein, "I am your Adam."

After much experimentation, Dr. Frankenstein was able to create life.  His "life" was a wretched, troubled individual, who in a sense became the capstone of science fiction, who broke away from the area of his "birth," and was forced to flee, seeking respite, sanctuary, perhaps even comfort.  He is last seen by Wollstonecraft's failed novelist, floating away on an ice floe.

After varying degrees of experimentation, you have created any number of characters.  You did not resort to some of Dr. Frankenstein's tactics, not the least of which was using portions of corpses, moulded together like a hamburger patty from a fast-food emporium.  But you have built characters on persons you know, endowed them with an attitude or agenda borrowed from yet other individuals.

You have given your characters names, tried to remove traces of monsterness, instilled some sense of humanity and personality.  Of course you have a new and better concept for being a failed writer, which is a writer who creates failed characters, striving to achieve goals in failed novels.  Until recently, you considered the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote, as the patron saint of characters.  Perhaps he still is, joined now by another fictional individual, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, as the patron saint of failed novelists.

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