I'm taking a little break from the long-distance running
of writing novels, in order to write a short story, the
first I've written in many many moons.
It's a quiet story, a strange story, with a human mystery
at its core. An unknown gentleman appears in the life of
a woman, a widower with two teenaged children. The identity
of the gentleman is the mystery, and his compelling anonymity
is contagious, disturbing and enlivening the other three.
Somebody wrote somewhere:
"Nobody writes quietly enough.
It may be impossible to write quietly enough.
I predict the greatest writer of the future
will be the quietest writer who ever wrote."
Oh, actually, I wrote that. But I happen to
believe it anyway.
So I'm trying to apply what I believe there to the real
world of my own story here.
The story, as it's unfurling now, will end in a longishly
conversation that includes the woman, her son and daughter,
and the unknown man, in the family's living room,
while a show on TV plays with the sound down, a show on
Discovery about continental drift.
I've eliminated all the obvious spectacular reveals
about the man's identity, which is a secret even to
himself, for he has lost his memory. He was found wandering
around the town fair in a damp suit without ID after having
driven a stolen car into the river. It has been a couple weeks
since the accident and he shows no sign of regaining his memory,
even of his name.
He is not an alien, is not dangerous, in a physical sense,
is not a psycho, has not escaped from anyplace, does not
know the woman is a past life, is not wanted, etc.
He may be lying in small details about his activities since
the accident in the river, untruths which he will reveal and
which he considers "necessary."
I don't know how it's going to end, although I do have the
final image. The conversation itself is what is going to be
quietly advanced, or circled around that image, which comes
from the show playing soundlessly on TV. That image will tie
the little world of what is transpiring in the living room
to the big world of the history of the planet and where we
are today as human beings. So it is ambitious in that sense,
that little click at the end which will not detonate, but
will ring it all into focus, the mystery unsolved but enlarged,
an enlarged embrace of the mystery, its sadness and beauty.
Endings in novels are sometimes great, sometimes good, sometimes
not so good, but in rare cases do they change the way I feel
about the whole book. I might think, "That's not how I'd have
ended it," but I usually wouldn't toss the book across the
room if I loved the work up to then. Too much territory has
been covered in a novel for me personally to hate a book
only because it's ending disappointed.
In a short story, the ending feels much more important, almost
as if the story were made for it, as the firing and flight of an
arrow exists for the bull's-eye.
So, I'm dedicated to making the ending quiet, to preserving
the mystery of this gentleman and his relationship to this
family, but also to revealing enough, having the discovery of
some human mystery be just substantial enough, that the reader, starting
with me, is satisfied, though he may not know why, or be able
to say why, or need to say why. At the heart of it is identity
and anonymity, and the connections we have with one another when
everything artificial and extraneous has been removed, or is simply
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Posted by Richard Martin.... at 1:07 PM