James Curtis & McKenzie Morton on River Run
CHAPTER 3: HOUSTON
So now it’s “Travis.” A Texan, of all things. Looks like he’s plopped into a fine mess. It’s like one of those fabulous wishes you make to the genii that turns out to be your worst nightmare. Exactly, as it happens, my own personal experience. The romance to end all romances, the arrival as if by magic of a soulmate to spend one’s life with, the heartfelt pledges and promises etc. . . . then, wham, the truck that has been rumbling down the road all those years slams into you, sends you to kingdom-come. Everything turns to dust and disease. Was I scammed or did I scam myself? That’s THE question. Not that other one—rarely ever considered—about the bare bodkin and the fardels.
I see your problem here and not so sure what the solution is. You’ve got a character who goes through or has gone through a series of incarnations/personas with a series of different names. So now you have the question of what name to use in the narrative. Will there be a difference between what the characters call him and what the author calls him? No, that won’t really work—too confusing. I agree your solution is best in terms of narrative efficiency. So, stop worrying about it!
Love the crazy Mondragon family and the more frequent use of a comic tone. It’s a perfect fit for the Houston section, where there’s a high tolerance for the outrageous and the hypocritical. The temptation is to fall into the usual Hispanic stereotypes. Those are here of course, but upended, turned inside out, and satirized. As usual, your female characters are the most interesting—the mother and Alma, the daughter. One, the ruined victim of Latin machismo, the other the conquering heroine of her own story. On the male side you have the gay version of machismo in the person of brother Alvaro. Right away, as soon as Travis arrives in Houston, we see first-hand the corrupting influence of wealth.
Time to say something about the “inserts.” I agree that this is an efficient and creative way to get exposition into the book, while also being interesting in themselves as journalistic genres, or pastiches of those genres. Or simply, as you said, “taking a breather from the narrative drone.”
This gets us into the website—or what you plan for the website. Let me say up front, I’m impressed with what you’ve put up already. You’re right. It’s not what people might think. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve taken the idea of the “insert” and expanded it to fit into the concept of “inside” the published novel—an expansion both in depth and breadth. More about character and plotlines and extended plotlines—as you plan to do with Justine and Darren/Travis, Travis and Scott Luddin. Your plan to also go behind the scenes with selections of alternate and dropped text, as well as with your own sketches and drafts, along with, God help us, these emails that we’re sending each other is more audacious, if not more risky.
So what do I REALLY think?A novel is a considerable investment in time. Add a website and its many nooks and crannies, along with the game-like challenges involved in obtaining more information, and you’re talking about a much larger investment, not just in time but skill. Nevertheless, I think you’ll attract readers with the sheer novelty of all this, though just as many people, or more, will have no interest in what the web can or cannot do for the traditional novel. In fact, you’re likely to attract quite a few naysayers. On the other hand, I think some people will see the potential and give it a try. There’s no question electronic media are the future, whether we like it or not.
Yeah, that was probably not very helpful. I’m not good at predicting the zeitgeist. I’ve always been a bet hedger.
On another subject. Thanks for telling me about Rivka. Not sure I want to know. Lauren was always over-trustful with “friends” and confiding personal information. I’ve more or less come to terms with the breakup. Not sure I want to know the grisly details. And yet even as I write those words, I suspect them to be untrue.
What funny creatures we are.
Having done some time in Corporate America, I can attest to the wretchedness of life that can often be found there. The fishing trip on the Paradiso says it all. Wickedly funny. Pleasantly surprised to see the arrival of Cripps, who appears to be Billy’s counterpart as a node of anarchic force. No doubt people will complain about the inclusion of first-person text, as Cripps provides Travis with the first detailed testimony of his past life. Too bad. There’s really no other way to do this. And happy to say, there’s as much in the telling as there is in the tale. Wink, wink. Cripps has a voice and you know who’s talking when he opens his mouth. Relieved to see that the plot, which seems to have been on holiday, is back on the job with the appearance of Agent Stuyvesant, a stock character you manage to make vivid in his brief appearance.
They seem to be getting more frequent and weirder, bending and warping the text as they do so. Their association with amnesia is thought-provoking. In one sense, it’s a pathology, in another it’s a kind of other-worldly gift, which connects with a theme that been rumbling constantly below the surface. I didn’t see it before you mentioned it: that this is where the website takes over. You used the word “meta,” but it’s not quite that in terms of its current meaning as something that’s self-referential. There may be that, but it’s not exactly what you have in mind, which, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s something like that idea of multiple texts. Not just a subtext (I know you hate that word) but an ubertext as well. (My fussy spellcheck just lit up.) Sorry for the on-the-fly coinage. And sorry to go all lit-crit on you. One of the downsides of majoring in English, the beginning of all my woes, truth be told. What the hell was I thinking?
In any case, I could be wrong. No matter. Hell, as far as you’re concerned, I’m just another character.
BTW, I’ve called Rivka and set up a luncheon meeting over in her neck of the woods, at Delfina. Good pizza, but not exactly ideal for a tete-a-tete, everyone jammed in cheek by jowl. The too-good-to-be-true opportunity to betray a trust was clearly apparent in her voice. What do women want? Payback! Not really looking forward to this. It’s like deciding to buy a ticket to a freak show, when curiosity has finally overcome disgust. And it just might happen that I end up being the freak. They kill us for their sport.
Alright, things are picking up. But once again you waste an erotic opportunity aboard the corporate jet that takes the P back to Houston. I know some readers are going to be disappointed. I know I was. We often hear about the Mile High Club but how many people actually get to become members? Here was a chance to give your readers an inside look.
If “San Francisco” was a variation of the fish out of water story, then here we have it again, but in a very different stream. This one seems a lot more fun, the menagerie of characters, especially in the whacky Mondragon family, bumped several notches up on the weirdness scale. No wonder the P lost his mind. The welcome-home dinner was a hoot. Still looking for a plot, though.
Seems this version of the P was quite different from the one who turned up in San Francisco and came this close to having a transgender girlfriend. He’s much more interesting now that he’s got a real problem to wrestle with—himself! It’s like looking in a funhouse mirror. The highlight for me is the fishing expedition, which reminded me of Billy’s show at the de Young. The presence of three working girls led me to think you were setting up for some sexy hijinks, but, no, despite a promising moonlight encounter between the P and one of the ladies, the chapter makes a discrete exit just before the main event. This sort of narrative interruptus seems to be a specialty of yours.
Kudos on the characterizations here, especially the captain’s.
Then, finally, some action, tension, drama. The mysterious speedboat and the three men with guns. Here was your chance to ramp things up, but—no surprise—all we get is a stand-off and a brief chase before the Coast Guard arrives to save the day. You could have at least had some exchange of gunfire. It’s well known that surviving a potentially fatal event jacks up the libido—something you might have exploited in a follow-up scene.
Still, it was well handled, if typically quirky in your preferred style. This is not the first time I realized that I might not be your ideal reader. A belated disclaimer. Sorry.
The appearance of Mr. Cripps was a nice surprise. I felt the story take a sudden turn here. The quiet, sometimes barely audible, rumble of the plot seems to have grown louder.