Friday, November 4, 2016

Plot: Ave Atque Vale, or So Long; it Was Good to Know You

Not by any means that two robins are sufficient to make a Spring, but. Michael Chabon's most recent novel, Moonglow,  and Rachel Cusk's even more recent novel, Transit, provide ample evidentiary argument for plot not being the driving force behind story it once was.

In the former novel, Chabon uses his grandfather as the engine driving such aspects as the reader rooting for a favorable outcome. We'll have to wait until Chabon reveals in writing or interview how much of his actual grandfather went into the sausage that became the narrator's grandfather, an engaging character, much in the manner of the tummler or on-site event manager at a Catskills hotel, nudging the guests from buffets to events.

The latter novel begins with the confession of an unnamed narrator that she'd been emailed by an astrologer, eager to share with her "important things in my immediate future."  By the end of page one, you were off to the races with the narrative, especially when the narrator tells us of this also unnamed astrologer, "She understood that many people closed their minds to the meaning of the sky above their heads, but she firmly believed I was not one of these people."

In a real sense both novels took you away from the narrative gold standard of an interesting character with a problem or goal, onto a more rarefied--platinum, if you will--approach to what story is...

...strange, quirky, vulnerable individuals you would not ordinarily talk to, focusing on events that disturb and threaten to devour them. 

One of the promises you gave your late wife is that you would continue two courses, memoir writing and fiction writing, she taught--and loved--at the local education (which has been subsumed by the local city college and morphed into CLL, Center for Lifelong Learning. At this remove, you've indeed grown close to some of the regulars, aware of the enormous binary in each, the desire to tell a story, whether the actual one of their own self or the imaginary one of their creative bent.

Getting pages out of them is a different matter than your previous graduate students, who were going into debt at the rate of $1175 per unit credit, with most of the classes being three-unit ventures. These graduate students and, later, your undergraduate students, somehow managed to produce huge, incredible tsunamis of narrative.

The conclusions here may seem mountain-goat leaps toward resolution: (1) Even the most prolific writer is in some way vulnerable and an outlier, your younger self no exception to that description; (2) story has begun the shift as emphatically as the Middle Ages Great Vowel Shift, from the search or quest to the sometimes wry, other times vulnerable confrontation with Reality.

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