Monday, January 21, 2008

My Remainder Post

Rhian intimated that I would be more articulate than she in my admiration for Tom McCarthy's Remainder, but I find myself at as much a loss as she was. It's a very peculiar piece of work, and one I enjoyed enormously--in fact I quickly added it to the syllabus of this "Weird Stories" class I'm teaching this semester.

It reminds me, as it did R., of Magnus Mills, but also of Kazuo Ishiguro, and to some extent The Magic Mountain. It's a book in which the narrator is concealing something from the reader, and possibly from himself as well. It's also about memory, a favorite subject of mine. Perhaps the most shocking thing about it is how completely is succeeds in the very ambitions I set for myself in writing my current novel-in-progress--though McCarthy and I are writing to different ends. I hope my book ends up being a tenth as absorbing as his.

The story, such as it is, is about a man who, in the wake of a mysterious accident, has an epiphany while staring at a crack in the wall of a friend's bathroom, which epiphany leads him to embark upon a series of increasingly elaborate re-enactments of apparently meaningless moments, in the hope of...well, we don't have any idea why he's doing it, actually. The plot is not quite the point here, though--it's the voice, which lives on this razor's edge between utterly convincing and completely unbelievable, and it's that sense of impending and inevitable collapse that drives the novel. He pretty much pulls it off in the end, though I found myself wishing it weren't so...Fight-Clubby. That said, if there was no such thing as Fight Club, I might have had no problem with it at all.

In any event, its success is derived from its attention the detail--it is, in fact, about detail itself--how we remember it, and how those memories create meaning. It would be the perfect assigned text to accompany my "ordinariness" post of last week--it shows that the ordinary is extraordinary, in as strange and satisfying a manner possible.

As for my novel...for better or worse, I'm sending it out tomorrow. How a person knows when his novel is finished is a topic for another day. (Although, hint: a person has no goddam idea.)


myles said...

Sounds like fun. Memory is one of my great themes, particularly its fragmented, contingent nature. Our lives are made only of bits of the past, fragments of memories of disjointed moments, and yet we seem to be able to create the illusion of a continuous past, a long and unbroken path back to childhood. We put a lot of weight on certain details, and not necessarily the truly important ones.

I still want to wake up one morning with the answer to this. Why, when everything about us is vapour, are we still so solidly and definitely here?

Bon voyage to your novel. I hope it thrives.

Matt said...

I hadn't made the Fight Club connection, but I see what you mean. Interesting.

jrlennon said...

Hope I haven't ruined it for you!

Thanks a lot for the recommendation, matt--I was really inspired by that book.

Rich said...

Any chance you'd share the titles of the other readings from your "weird stories" course?

Also, thanks very much for this blog! I've been reading it pretty regularly for the last 6 months and a great deal of the fiction i've read in that period is due to your recommendations. Most of it has been great and stuff i probably wouldn't have found on my own! I'm afraid i don't really see the attraction to 'the laughing policeman,' but almost everything else has been spot-on.

jrlennon said...

Here's a link to the syllabus of this class....I'll probably post about it now and then throughout the semester.

Thanks, Rich, and sorry you didn't dig the Swedes!

zoe said...

So, what does that entail? Is it going to your agent or a publisher? Did you end up doing loads of redrafts?

Please feel free to do a post on knowing when to send it off.

jrlennon said...

Maybe in a couple days I'll do that...

So yes, going to my agent. I haven't had a book editor since Norton dropped Happyland several years ago. This is an odd book, but I like it, and we'll see what happens with it. The version I sent today is basically v4.1--a major fourth draft with some minor touchups.

zoe said...

God, I don't know how you have the stomach to keep looking at it again and again.

good luck!

Is this a controversial book again?