The Squirrely Place

I’m reading the biography, learning the science, and still, I’m in that awful, squirrely place where the locus of the novel refuses to emerge.  I watched a Nova dvd over the weekend, one called Einstein Revealed, and am somewhat into another called Einstein’s Big Idea.  I’m familiar with much of the biographical material already, so it’s the science that I’m getting, the pictures revealing more than the chapters in Isaacson, in terms of understanding his view of the universe.  The conflict Nova chose was science vs personal relationships, as Einstein seemed to want more than anything to be left alone to think about the physics of the universe and used science to avoid all the messy stuff of household life.  A needy wife?  Two little boys?  Aha!  Better to go to work than to be interrupted by personal need!  He justified this by siting his genius as some obligation to humanity, but it seems to me that thinking about science is his drug of choice.  Which of us wouldn’t like a really good reason to avoid feeling all the messy adventures life offers up?  How much easier it is to do what one is good at and take satisfaction from accomplishment.

But to put a needy, depressed woman on the page?  How long will the reader put up with that?  These people need to emerge for me.  So far, I seem to be holding them at bay.

I’m reading two novels, simultaneously, that have first-person, schizophrenic narrators, Lowboy by John Ray and Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen.  Lowboy is comic and it’s clear, via the entrance of an omniscient narrator, that the protagonist is the schizophrenic because the omni narrator pops up (not according to any plan I can see, but just when I needed him/her) to provide a measuring stick of sanity.   In Atmospheric Disturbances it wasn’t so immediately clear to me, largely because the protagonist is a psychiatrist, which throws the expectation onto other characters.  But the longer I’m in his first person head, the more he insists that this person in his wife’s place is her doppelganger, the more I believe that he is the deluded one.  I haven’t yet finished either.  Both are published by FSG.

What I find disturbing in the Galchen novel is that the structure follows outline form: I. a. b. etc.  So far, I see no metpahor emerging and it bothers me.  It feels gimicky and I’m not sure what I’m getting from it.  I haven’t finished the novel, yet, as I said, but I need to say that now, in process, I’m wondering why and not getting an answer.   Also, I don’t sense much forward progress and am getting weary of circling around the same material.  He believes his wife has a doppelganger; he has a client who believes he is a secret agent for a meteorological society; and his wife has convinced him that he should pretend to be another secret agent in order to treat the client, which he is doing (Why? She is younger than he, and it seems to be some fear of losing her.) but believes to be unethical.  So, yes, I get the set-up.  He is living two lives and projecting them onto her.  But how does this justify the outline structure?

I just don’t know.  The squirrels are enjoying themselves.

About Nancy Pinard

Professionally-speaking, Nancy Pinard is an author-educator who spends her days writing, teaching, reading, and researching for her writing and teaching. She is the author of two published novels, Shadow Dancing and Butterfly Soup, and numerous short stories. She has taught the craft of fiction writing in many venues including Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton Life-Long Learning Institute, Antioch Writers' Workshop, Mad Anthony Writers' Workshop, and Molasses Pond Writers' Workshop. Personally, her faith is what sustains, inspires, and motivates her to continue to explore meaning through literature. "You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist." — Anton Chekov to Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888
This entry was posted in reading, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Squirrely Place

  1. Leslie Nagel says:

    Who says the outline device has to have a point? Although if it is distracting you from the narrative, it’s not working.

    Sometimes authors use organizational devices to aid the reader, sometimes they use them (I suspect) to help keep the story ideas flowing. At their best, an organizational device forwards the plot, as in Joyce’s Ulysses.

    In my novel-under-construction, The Book Club Murders, the organizational device is a monthly divide that paces off the book club’s meetings and the killer’s choice of victims and crime scenes. This timeline builds tension and influences the investigation.

    Here’s a theory: maybe the whole thing is the second draft of his doctoral thesis. You’re the teacher extraordinaire, NP—feel free to give him a C. 😉

  2. vivian blevins says:

    Most blogs don’t require as much thought to provoke a response as this one does. I think LN has given you some great advice.

  3. Vickie says:

    Thought provoking indeed! I enjoyed the blog and the comments.

  4. Beebe says:

    I’m so glad that somebody besides me has this problem, a circling of narrative, endless, no progress. Sort of like the author is entertaining himself with navel contemplation.
    And I wanted to thank you for the offer (via Zoetrope) of listing my web.
    and for inviting me to your blog to read and discover things that a poet doesn’t necessarily know.

Leave a Reply