I’ve read that John Cheever, a writer who I love, was never really comfortable with the novel as a form. I read Falconer, and I thought it was fine, though I could see why some critics say that his longer works suffer from being episodic; the flow that he manages with great short stories like The Enormous Radio and The Swimmer–it’s just not there, at least not with Falconer.
But so what? At least the guy got the thing done. Right?
That’s kind of my attitude now. I started a novel when I was leaving grad school–10 years ago. I’d decided I wasn’t going to go on for a Ph.D., and I would throw my lot in with the creative types. I worked at it for a couple years, got lost along the way, got obsessed by a woman–escapism takes all guises. Then, I got obsessed with Tango. I met my wife, moved across the country, got married, became a dad. You see where this is going? But I wouldn’t say that mine is that story of the artist growing up or giving up. I have written all this time: a story collection, an attempt at a graphic novel and a children’s book, too.
In 2013, I became exhausted with trying to do that stuff and blog and keep up with things social. My father was diagnosed with cancer; my kid is like his pops and a bit of an insomniac, which means I sleep fitfully and not enough. But some time around the summer, I found my groove with the novel again. I can say one thing about this thing: good or bad, I believe in its purpose, its reason for being. Basically, it’s about an elderly woman whose spent her life taking care of her son who suffers from a lot of things. I don’t name it, but the ailment is basically a combination of autism and schizophrenia. The woman is based on a real person who I worked for during my last year at Harvard. It was, in many ways, one of the saddest years of my life.
In my hands, this family drama takes on some magical realism–I can’t help it, and really, that’s the book I sought to write from the beginning. Think Jonathan Franzen meets Twilight Zone or Borges-with-a-heart and you have what I’m after. Anyway, up until November, I was on target to finish a decent draft by years-end, and then, once again, I was lulled away, distracted, pulled by the siren’s call of blog and social media and other creative pursuits.
There are some practical reasons for this. This blog, I’ve finally figured out after months off, is going to be a diary of some of them. But as you can imagine: with one little and another on the way, and the fact that we live in San Francisco, which is increasingly becoming impossible, it’s time for this middle-aged dude to shake things up. So creative juices have to flow where the money is, and that means getting out of the teaching racket and probably out of this lovely city by the bay. It means, and I’m finaly understanding the lesson: I need to use the storytelling/writing talents that I have–meager that they might be–in order to make money. NOW. Not later.
And still…and still, my good friends, that novel waits, and I will return to it. I’ve stopped thinking of the book as some kind of obligation or worse, as a reminder of my meager talents as a writer. The book might turn out to be a big dud, but it will be mine. It is also a story worth telling, and for some reason, rightly or wrongly, part of the reason it’s taken me so long to finish it is because I wasn’t sure of that until now. So that’s something.
As I mentioned above: I love Cheever. His characters are messy and complicated, and maybe the writing is episodic, but then again, isn’t life?