03 September 2008
Working Title: Jonesey
This is the next in the series of posts on novels in development. Today's story: Jonesey.
Jonesey, a simple, sheltered young man who finds himself alone in the world after the death of his mother, must summon the courage and wit to defy the conniving fraud claiming to be his father who suddenly reappears and tries to involve Jonesey in a criminal enterprise. Only the odd, ghostly young woman whom Jonesey meets on his daily walks seems to offer him any hope of escaping the tyranny of the stranger.
The inspiration for this novel owes something to John Hawkes's gripping The Lime Twig as well as Melville's essentialBilly Budd. The plot follows Jonesey as he is drawn deeper and deeper into the scheme of the stranger who claims to be his father. At first, he doesn't really understand what he is getting involved in; only as things get hairier does he recognize that what he's doing might be wrong. The story, beyond the awakening of an authentic moral sensibility in Jonesey (before he has merely done what his mother told him to do), deals with Jonesey's abject aloneness in the indifferent world of an industrial city much like you might find in North Jersey and the absence of true sources of aid and comfort. He can find companionship only with an evil con-man and his compatriots. Is relatedness worth the price? Or, is goodness itself enough?
Jonesey is a compelling character, easy to sympathize with because of the death of his mother and his 'specialness'. He has been sheltered and protected from the 'realities' of life by his devoted mother, and now he is all alone and vulnerable. (Of course, this ties in nicely with our Ur-story thread herein; and that's a good thing we think.) Her death, though unexpected and sudden, leaves Jonesey with a house and a small trust fund to see him through, so long as he is frugal and follows her thorough instructions. The man who claims to be his father is evil—human, but evil. It becomes apparent he has designs on Jonesey's paltry inheritance and the house where he claims he once lived (when Jonesey was a mere baby). It's also clear he has grand schemes in which he can use Jonesey because of Jonesey's innocence and naivete; though it is not hard to imagine what will become of Jonesey once the man no longer has use for him. The character of Jonesey, I think, will be hard to write—a delicate balance between competence and mental deficiency, innocence and knowledge (in the mythical sense). The character of the father will be fun to write: a writer's dream (much like the Judge in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
I have drafted only the first chapter of the book, but I like it. I find it compelling on many levels. I have a vague sense of where the book's going, though I haven't conceptualized the specific schemes and crimes in which the father seeks to involve Jonesey. That will involve research, planning, and imagination. Likewise, I don't have a full outline or a sense of all the scenes and chapters yet. It will be an adventure, unfolding as it goes along (not, in itself, necessarily a bad thing). And I still have a quandary about the girl: I won't go into it here, but it involves her very nature, its mystery, and how much to involve her in the goings-on. I love the setting. I love the darkness of the father-figure. I love the chance, with the girl, to toy with reality and realism. I also love the theme of the naif abroad—which is, indeed, the theme of my first story which will be published soon. One other thing Jonesey has going for it: it picks up on the theme with which I ended EULOGY, a young man confronting his own essential aloneness in the world after the death of his mother.