05 September 2008
Working Title: Toys in the Attic
For those of you still interested in peering under the hood of this putatively creative mind, we offer this latest installment of the series of posts about which of the novels-in-progress to complete.
In our review of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, we referred you to a series of brilliant novels we found intriguing and compelling for their depiction of evil protagonists in the tradition of Crime and Punishment: Vladimir Nabokov's classic and controversial Lolita (1955), John Fowles's The Collector (1963), Evan S. Connell's The Diary of a Rapist (1966), John Banville's Booker-nominated The Book of Evidence (1989), and James Lasdun's The Horned Man (2002). All are told in first person—though The Collector has a middle section told from a POV other than the protagonist. We've long wanted to write a novel along these lines. Sex, misogyny, torture, murder, rape, madness, sociopathy, depravity: all fine subjects for the fictional mind.
Needless to say, this promises to be a somewhat darker novel than the other three I've outlined. I haven't conceptualized it quite as thoroughly as the others—that is to say, I have considerably more work to do on it to bring it to fruition. The premise has the protagonist sitting in a quiet, hidden corner in the attic of his home. He has just learned he's dying and has only a very short time to live. He's going through a box of memorabilia. His immediate dilemma is whether and how to tell his wife of twenty or so years that he's dying or simply to disappear one day and not return. The memorabilia, it turns out, are from past 'relationships' or 'affairs' he's had through the years; thus, much of the book will be told from the POV of his memories. However, as each so-called affair is revealed through whatever token he pulls out of his box, it becomes clearer to the reader that these were no ordinary relationships. His evilness starts coming through as he reviews what he considers to be his life's work—really, the only thing he's ever been truly successful at.
Story questions, naturally, involve his motives for his actions (if there are any, or they prove merely to be outcroppings of his character) and his reasons for staying with his wife and not adding her to his list of victims—these must be thematically and causally connected. The plot, as noted, will follow his decision how to deal with his imminent dying: will he have an 'epiphany' and come to grips with who he really is and punish himself? will he kill his wife? will he slink off into obscurity? will he find a way to perpetuate himself and his deeds such that his evil lives on after him? what will he do with his tokens, i.e., the evidence of his deeds?
The protagonist will not be immediately likable, but he will be complex and intriguing. That has to be his hook. The sociopath, particularly the borderline personality, is inherently seductive. I don't conceive of him as being deformed physically—that seems too obvious, too done already. Yet, there has to be some interesting flaw that we keep coming back to. The wife, too, though a lesser character in terms of presence, will need to be filled out—even if she's mainly off-screen/stage, so to speak. She's got to play a prominent role in his thoughts, and her character must be, therefore, larger than life—I'm thinking Kohler's wife in Wm. Gass's The Tunnel, here. Each relationship will represent a deeper stage in his depravity, though the figures won't be so much symbolic as emblematic; one way I've been toying with is to have each 'victim' represent a missed opportunity for the protagonist along the course of his life, one which if he'd taken would have made his life less miserable (at least he believes).
Unlike the other three, I have yet to write a word on this novel. Nor have I outlined it. If I chose it, I would have a lot of work to do. The work would be fun, but hard; the psychic delving would be intense and isolating, calling perhaps for greater strength and stamina than the others. The other projects in this series have their elements of darkness, but this one would be a deeply dark canvas: entirely chiaroscuro, perhaps. There is less room for the sort of humor I was able to bring to EULOGY. One limitation: this novel demands to be written in first person POV and not free indirect style. EULOGY was an intense first person POV and took place over the space of one hundred hours of what amounted to solitude. I had hoped to try out my chops with the third person in writing this next book; and the other three books in this series certainly allow for that. First person POV is more like 'method acting' writing; free indirect style is somewhat less demanding, giving the writer some breathing space to be himself. If I choose this book, I will have to completely submerge myself in the character of this monster.
Other issues. Query: Could I make it a worthy contribution to the tradition of novels I mentioned above or would it be entirely derivative? Query: Could I make it more than a mediocre piece of psychological realism? Query: Is the subject matter simply too touchy for the current market—I mean, after all, doesn't the public want to see things from the POV of the good guy and to see the bad man get his comeuppance at the end?
As I mentioned, this is the type of novel I've long wanted to pursue. So, what's a boy to do?