James Curtis & McKenzie Morton on River Run
CHAPTER 4: BOSTON
My Dear Katheryn,
Now here we are on the East Coast, with a new name. Clearly, the detective story has clicked in, with the usual interviewing of witnesses and suspects. I understand all the thematic underpinnings of the Italy section with former friend June Bertrand, but not sure the scenic route off the main highway is a good idea at this point. It’s picturesque and informative but just as we are looking forward to an arrival and a destination, there’s a detour. Sorry for the clumsy metaphor. I’m trying to be kind. Take it for what’s it’s worth.
The structure and style has changed here, as it has in the previous sections. It’s more theme-and-variations, as Travis (or is it Adam now?) goes from one former friend to another, filling in the blank spots of this past life. In general, I think this works fine, but some readers might object to ding-dong repetitiveness.
So, yes, I did meet with Rivka, and she was more than pleased to dish out the details of Lauren’s adulterous fling. Which, clearly, is not how Lauren saw/sees it, but which, it seems to me, has all the hallmarks thereof. Lauren was always good at redefining things. A great skill. I wish I had it. Mine is the opposite skill: the ability to see the squalid beneath the sublime, and to take it as a personal insult.
Now here’s the interesting thing, dear Katheryn: Lauren’s affair seems quite similar to the one in your book between Travis and Candy Sweet, who is some sort of event coordinator/executive assistant at his company. That’s what Lauren is. That’s who Lauren was/is involved with. A coincidence? Maybe it’s just me and my recently addled, cuckolded brain that finds a quite close resemblance between the character and the real-life Lauren Curtis.
Don’t worry, I’m not upset. Just surprised to see fiction uncannily hitting so close to home.
I appreciate your confession, I really do, though I’m not sure I buy your reasoning that you were trying to see if I was reading closely enough to catch on. I was, and I am. Interesting that you came up with the character before the affair was generally known—or more specifically, before even YOU knew. Evidence, if true, that perhaps writers—or maybe simply women in general—have unique abilities to penetrate and understand the human psyche. I think it’s generally true that men who claim this power are frauds. Except gays.
Back to the quest. Travis closes in. In general the testimonies of former friends keeps the plot moving forward. One exception may be Duncan, the architype of the college whiz who, as midlife fast approaches, has devolved into a crass boor. A second might be DeShawn. I understand there are details that have to be revealed. Here’s where your practice groans under the effort. Sorry, don’t know of a fix, except to say the usual—trim and transfer any required info into the testimonies of others.
The standouts here are Sylvia and Scott. Sylvia is nicely concluded with that show-stopper of a sex scene played out inside Travis’s exploding head. Scott Luddin (love the name), it seems to this reader, builds a powerful head of steam that gets cut short before a proper resolution. I know you plan to feature him on the website. Look forward to seeing what you do with him there. But a lost opportunity here.
I enjoyed our long talk at the Kup. You certainly have had an interesting life, thoughtfully and passionately lived, a serious person with a relish for the comic and the absurd. It’s all there in your book, head and heart, demonstrated in this section by how you effortlessly pivot from Scott Luddin’s existential conundrums to the nursing home where Dwight Luddin, Travis’s stepfather, previously revealed as cold, uncaring, and possibly cruel, is now seen as a broken, demented old man, with a totally different version of their past relationship. Travis’s moment of insight and pity, while sitting in his car amidst the dregs of Watertown, is deeply moving.
Naturally, I’m envious! Editors have just enough talent to appreciate great writing, but not enough to actually write something great. I was going to assert that we’re like midwives. But that’s not true, unless we’re talking about a woman unable to conceive a child. Then it fits me to a T.
Bernice is fun and the discovery of Anna Sedgwick’s journal a fitting preface to the final come-to-Jesus meeting with Cripps, as all secrets are exposed, all plot lines tidily resolved. And then, ending the “Boston” section, we get the concluding twist—the master manipulator outmaneuvering his antagonist—but at a cost. This is the best of your previous attempts. It’s satisfying without the roaring crescendo that typically accompanies the triumph of the protagonist over enemies and circumstances. Plus, this isn’t the actual ending, of course. Travis still has to get to River Run and the final confrontation with himself.
Another change of venue. Nice to see the plot clicking along. Some advice: I’d take your author’s scalpel to a lot of these first-person testaments, especially the one of the lady art restorer. When I read, my body tells me when something’s working or not. Not: an urge to check my Facebook page is one, a fit of yawning is another. In the middle of all the talk about that painting, I counted three yawns. The exception was the chapter on the former girlfriend who became a doctor. I was happy to see you follow up with the scene in the motel room, although putting the reader inside the P’s effed-up brain would not have been my preferred choice. I only made it to page 3 of Ulysses. And once again we have a relationship that just can’t seem to get off the ground. It’s true that that’s pretty much the way life is, but this isn’t life! You need to cut your characters a break!
I have a feeling where all of this is going, and I’m not sure I want to be there when it happens. It’s tough being the P in your story. Or for that matter, an editor in yours.
I’m not sure I get what’s going on with the pizza-obsessed computer-game guy. I have a feeling you make him out to be more than just another oddball. And, speaking for myself, I don’t really care to know.
On the upside, the revelations and red herrings of the P’s past are interesting and increase the momentum of the story. Here’s where your idea of writing the novel as a mystery story pays off. The return to Cripps clears the air. But in terms of comeuppance there isn’t much. He gets told off and then the cop takes over, the implication being Cripps is looking at possible arrest, conviction, jail time and all the horrors that go along with it. But is that enough? Who am I to judge? Perhaps in the movie version the bug will be fittingly crushed under foot. Or maybe not if the Cohen brothers direct.