Monday, July 02, 2012

Dream novels

I spent the morning gnashing my teeth over the fifty-millionth edit of the first two-thirds of my novel (I'm waiting on editorial comments for a final iteration due Friday, but wanted to do what I could on my own first): it was clear I was only doing minor verbal tweaking, and that really it's done, but I couldn't not go through it again before getting to the last third. 

(It was not time wasted, as I did notice a couple things more clearly than I have before that may help me write a new final page to supersede the current one, which still isn't working.) 

This afternoon's work session was more satisfactory: I did a lot of new writing last week in that final third, and I felt as I went through both that the new stuff had largely fixed remaining narrative problems and that my interest was more thoroughly and therefore much more happily engaged here by the need to do substantive clean-up and streamlining. 

All in all, a useful day's work that also primed me to be perfectly appreciative of the last few paragraphs of Michael Chabon's NYRB on what reading Finnegan's Wake over the course of a year taught him about novel-writing.  Here is a bit I especially liked:
The Wake’s failure to render up a true account of the experience of dreaming, of the unconscious passage of a human consciousness across an ordinary night, was only a figure for a greater failure, a more fundamental impossibility. All the while that I was reading Joyce’s night book, I was busy at my day job: my Wake year was also my last spent at work on a novel whose composition had occupied me, on and off, from conception to completion, since the late 1990s.
As I groped my way toward the point at which Joyce’s hoop snake sinks its fangs into its own tail, the book that I was writing came ever nearer to its final state, and inevitably, habitually, as I came down the home stretch I began to look back, to compare the book at hand, four-hundred-plus pages of English prose sentences, in Times 12, double-spaced, to the book as I had first glimpsed it: that lovely apparition, hovering and beautiful as a vision of the New Jerusalem, wordless, perfect. Set alongside my original vision—that dream novel—the book I’d managed to carry across the span of years and drafts was at best, as always, a mere approximation, an unruly neighborhood into which had crowded the ganse mishpoche of nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adjectives. The idea for a book, the beckoning fair prospect of it, is the dream; the writing of it is the breakfast-table recitation, groping, approximation, and ultimately, always, a failure. It was not like that at all.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, and ...? Something we all come to know, and I do wish Chabon wouldn't mash up so many different metaphors in one paragraph.