December 14, 2008

Novel Thoughts

Mom called & mentioned the trip log, saying that there were too many difficult words. “But Momma…that’s where the fun is!” to quote the rock classic “Blinded by the Light”. Or at least that’s the fun I have, and the writer ought to have some fun. Especially if you’re not getting paid for it. Besides no prophet, etc.., although reviews were mostly poor regardless of where they originated.

But a colorful word is like an exotic zoo animal. Sometimes you’d rather see it out and about rather then a gray squirrel. And I like the descriptive because conflict makes me tired. Yes, I understand we’re all congenitally hard-wired for struggle and conflict ever since the fall of Adam and Eve. If Hitler wrote “My Contentment” instead of “My Struggle” it likely wouldn’t have done as well on the Berlin Zeitgeist’s bestseller list, if there’d been one. We need struggle. As Walker Percy once wrote, conservatives and liberals need each other.

When Ham o’ Bone and I jointed wrote our ill-fated novella (fated, that is, for the file 13), I enjoyed it for the exercise in creativity although I thought he neurotically concerned about the plot. He could say I was neurotically attached to tangents and descriptive enthusiasms.

We wrote it back before the Internet, before there was much self-publishing, before blogs. Back then you could write with a clear conscience. You could write without feeling like you were part of the problem, without feeling like you were contributing to the pollution of too many mediocre voices spoiling the broth.

“One mustn’t read novels, they only depress you,” is the advice given to Gigi in the musical of the same name. I seem to have good taste in blogs but poor taste in novels, which I acknowledge is due to a character flaw. The first great novel I read, post-college era, was John Updike’s “Memoirs of the Ford Administration”. Then his “Towards the End of Time”. Why? Could I re-read them today with enjoyment? I doubt it. At the time they were very pleasuratory. It’d seemed I’d found a soul-author in Updike though I’ve since learned I’m not supposed to like him as he’s not in the Christian canon the way someone like Tolkien is. David Foster Wallace called him all sorts of names, none too flattering. Wallace esteemed virtue and thumbed his nose at the therapeutic culture to the point of, sadly, taking his own life. Updike lives on.

Updike’s prose is very descriptive, if containing plots that can be a bit thin. Flannery O’Connor is likely the opposite; I love her collection of letters, but her fiction only fitfully -- presumably because description is so secondary with her. Fiction used to carry no moral requirement for me while now I seem to think I have to be spiritually improved by it, and O’Connor has the moral vision imprimatur such that I superstitiously think it’ll rub off on me just by reading her stories.

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