Monday, June 20, 2016

Side Effects and Digressions

You did not foresee some of the side effects and digressions about to spring forth when you began work on The One Hundred Novels You Must Read before You Write Your Own. Nor could you expect the work is taking so long, in large measure because the digressions and side effects are having such a disrupting effect on you.

By its title, the work suggests a readership of writers, perhaps dedicated readers, perhaps teachers of creative writing, perhaps as a supplementary reading for some literary  critical thinking classrooms.  

Closer to the truth, the reason you wanted to write this book is for these side trips and digressions of which you speak; in other words, the real audience is you. The excitement and impatience bordering on irritation are because the work could not have come to you, and presented itself so strongly as it did, at a worse time.

Forget the fact that, although two publishers have been less than polite in their response to the work, there are two places at the moment where interest is high, or that your literary agent is also eager for you to finish to your satisfaction, then move on.

The reason this is the worst time is also, in keeping with your belief that nothing bad ever happens to a writer, the best time because you are at once eager and frightened about the prospect of the fiction project you have in mind. Once again, The One Hundred Novels You Must Read caused you to link two writers you greatly admire, writers who, on first blush, seem almost antithetical to one another.

The two writers, and more to the point, their books, are William Faulkner, whose Absalom, Absalom is a whirlwind of narrative energy and complexity, reminiscent of James Joyce's Ulysses, playing with narrative as though it were information received from afar in the same way light from some distant stars is reaching us even after the star, itself, has died; and the Latin American writer, Manuel Puig, whose two novels, Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, and Heartbreak Tango use narrative as though it were a shuttlecock in a game of badminton.

Reexamining Puig's work for inclusion in The Hundred Novels got you to thinking of how Faulkner, in his preoccupation with the effects of the past on present lives, stretched narrative to the point where, in Absalom, Absalom, in the early pages, a character recounts events which she says she'd seen. Then Faulkner replays the events from others who were there, trying to make sense of the past and the potential it has for tinting our vision of it.

Seen from the perspective of use of narrative, which is, in your terms,  an attempt to interpret past events before linking them to present day motives, you are able to state without equivocation that both Faulkner and Puig are writing detective novels in which the reader finds him/herself cast in the role of a private detective (as opposed to a sworn officer of the law), looking for some sense of truth as compensation, representing most of us, who do not consider themselves such great fans of sworn officers of the law.

In at least one way, this could all be oversimplification of the sort of oversimplification inherent in the statement: A successful university education educates you to understand you can never achieve sufficient education, only sufficient curiosity.  By those terms, worst case scenario from those hundred novels of the eponymous title is the relationships you continue to experience between what you read, what you take from your reading, what you write, and which questions your writing answer that cause you to have yet newer questions.

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