Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Novel, Wrecked

Generally speaking, when a person who I don't know very well confides that he sleeps in the nude, I'm going to edge away.  In this case, however, I will forgive Michael Chabon.  As a part of McSweeney's Issue 36, Chabon included a discarded, partially finished draft novel, along with his detailed notes about what didn't work, and why.  This work is called "Fountain City:  a Novel, Wrecked by Michael Chabon". 

There is something about Chabon's writing that makes me think that I too could succeed as a writer.  It's not that he's so bad that I'm sure I could do better, either.  Both his novel Wonder Boys and Fountain City deal with the struggle of a writer to write.  The challenges that his characters in Wonder Boys, and he, himself, in Fountain City face are exactly the things that keep me from trying to write in earnest.  These include hating your novel, being sure that it will never work, incorporating your personal past, bringing in characters from your own life, and trying too hard to make your likes and dislikes those of your characters as well.  In this way, Chabon does not exactly make writing seem effortless, but he does make it seem like something anyone could do.  This is incredibly generous of him, and certainly not true.

Fountain City, as included in McSweeney's, should be required reading for introductory writing courses.  As it is written, the right hand page is the text, and the left hand page is notes about what certain words are referencing, Chabon's ideas on where the character was supposed to be heading, and his insight on why the particular twist or idea didn't work.  It's really interesting to see his thought process, and even how he is embarrassed looking  back on what he had written.  The sleeping nude fact is just one tidbit of Chabon's analysis of his own writing.  Specifically, he questions why he spends so much time talking about characters' sleep wear when he doesn't wear any.  He also candidly questions and attempts to explain his need for gay characters and his recurring topic of suicide.

Chabon ultimately gave up on Fountain City after years of trying to sculpt it into a novel, but that's really too bad.  One can see glimmers of great characters and plot lines that he could certainly complete now that he is more experienced as a writer and a person.

So far, this is my favorite part of McSweeney's Issue 36, but I will certainly write more once I get through it all.

Still listening to:  What is the What by Dave Eggers

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