[Originally published 2-5-16 at Lines of Flight]
I’m posting the first section of a draft of a novel I’m working on. Or, have just about finished and am trying to revise. Or something. I had asked if anyone wanted to critique my creative work in the way I try to interrogate that of others, but there were no eager volunteers. Maybe reading it first will raise some questions?
My hope is to offer an example of something that just might do what I have repeatedly asked for examples of. That is, a kind of creative work that tries to engage the world critically, and to encourage its readers to do so. I have doubts that this is possible. Even more doubts that this particular example can succeed. But any intelligent critical response is welcome. (Stupid or useless response will be ignored–I’m just to tired of that game.)
The pdf below, then, contains the first two sections of a novel that is about 115k words. It changes narrators, and mixes genres, and tries any strategy I could think of to be motivating rather than comforting–but to still be fun. After all, the revolution should be a joyful event!
Anyone interested in reading this in some other format can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can send a Kindle (mobi) or Nook (ePub) version, if you’d like.
Feel free to “pepper spray”…but I will only respond to intelligent criticism.
The Event: Gabe 1
Thursday’s I would meet Sam at the Golden Monkey and we would drink tea and talk about her delusions. No, not that kind of delusions, not the psychotic kind. I mean it in the Buddhist way. Sam had almost no delusions left, which is a scary way to be; much worse than having lots of them; almost as bad as having none at all.
I’ll start with that last Thursday meeting, the one that led to all the trouble. I want to tell you the story of how Sam’s last few delusions caused her so much trouble; but more than that, I want to tell you about how Sam’s debacle showed me, finally, what to do. Because I had no delusions left, and I had been stuck there for an endless time. Delusion free, or so I thought, and waiting for an event to set me in motion. Now, I want to tell this in a kind of novelistic discourse, because I don’t know how else to make this kind of point.
So here we go, with some of the obligatory descriptive stuff, setting and tone, developing characters so you can identify with them and be subtly but powerfully interpellated into their ideological parallax, swept into the voice-as-gaze and gently, pleasantly cozened, allowing the narrative to think for you. Or something like that. The Golden Monkey is in the college part of our big town that calls itself a city. We have four colleges (one you’d know the name of) and seven abandoned factories that once made things like glass and guns and pipe-fittings and carpet. Now, we are a town nobody would come to except for the really famous university and the two smaller, second-tier colleges, and the one very small fifth-rate public college that used to be an agricultural school and is now like a four-year repeat of the eleventh grade. Seventeen and a half square miles in the American northeast, a population of just over forty thousand, and nothing beyond the town line for miles but dairy farms and state forest.
Okay, there’s my establishing shot, right? It only remains to insist that I’m fictionalizing the town beyond all recognition, and to give it a fake name. I’ll call it Capua. And now we move in toward the coffee shop, located walking distance from two campuses, open late and early, in what was once a factory that made expensive pocket watches, but is now a collection of offices and shops. The owner of this coffee shop owns three others in town, all with “monkey” in the name. This is the biggest money maker; I’m the manager of the least profitable of the four, The Monkey’s Paw, which sells much more beer than coffee, and doesn’t get many students. But, not to get diverted into backstory, let’s return to the description: the place appears to be a chaotic scatter of club chairs and small sofas, little wooden tables with mismatched chairs, but this chaos is only apparent. Verna and her daughter devote enormous time to keeping the shabby-chic look from falling too far into shabby. The artwork on the wall changes regularly, with amazingly good MFA students from the second-most prestigious college in town clamoring to get their newest stuff shown. In the courtyard in the middle of the rectangle formed by the old factory buildings there sits a four-foot high golden monkey, of no species anyone has ever been able to identify, sitting like a simian buddha, his hands in the teaching pose. The only permanent artwork inside is a series of ten ox-herding pictures done in ink on parchment, and not in the correct order.
Sam has long blond hair in a single tight braid, the way she’s worn it since she was a little girl, and it looks unsettlingly juvenile now that she’s in her forties. She’s thin, tall, strong, very athletic, and you might think she was half her age if you caught her smiling, but her age shows in the weary dolor of her habitual expression. Plus, she wears these thick blocky wool sweaters and corduroy pants that give her a frumpy look when she’s still, although moving, she still has that coltish appeal that overcomes her attempted
self-presentation. She works as a research assistant at the big university, the famous one, and is sexually harassed by every principle investigator she works for; in seventeen years, she has never complained, and so she keeps working.