I mentioned recently how, while writing an episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, I was commended by the guy who’s name appears prominently in the show’s title for “cracking” the episode’s story, when he and his phalanx of movie mavens could not. That’s not a gratuitous “re-compliment.” I am actually going somewhere with this.
The question is how do I get there?
Let’s try this.
The generating premise of today’s effort came from this novel I am listening to on CD. Yes, I am listening to a novel. I usually don’t. Because I believe novels are entirely fabricated. Which, undeniably, they are. So I am right about that. If not necessarily about “Who cares?”
Non-fiction writers stick to verifiable facts, specifically, the ones accommodating their narrative perspective. The remainder of the facts, they leave to non-fiction writers arguing differing narrative perspectives. No one makes anything up. It’s just contrasting collections of evidence.
Despite my proclaimed preference for factual reality, the novel I am listening to – brought to my attention by Dr. M – has (re)opened my eyes (because it has, albeit infrequently, happened before) to the glittering possibilities of fiction.
It’s called A Gentleman in Moscow (written by Amor Towles.) My psychological proclivity requires me to see fiction writing as “lying.” That is simply the way I’m “wired.” I am now, given the mitigating evidence of this novel, however, coming to realize that there is “lying” and there is “exquisitely executed lying.”
A Gentleman in Moscow, with its compelling narrative, its understanding of character, his impeccable sense of time and place, and, most particularly, its unsurpassable evocative language, is unquestionably
Over-reacting in the opposite direction – due to my newfound conversion to “The Novel” – I have developed a colorfully clarifying distinction.
Consider the calendar.
Non-fiction writing, even skillfully written non-fiction writing, is the months and the numbers at the bottom of the calendar. Fiction writing – meaning, “Top of the Line” fiction writing – is the picture of rural Vermont with the leaves changing, decorating the top.
(How’s that? Any good? It came from the place where the good stuff invariably comes from, so I was thinking it might be.)
Anyway, here’s this spectacular novel, which I can’t wait to climb back on the treadmill so I can listen to more of.
Without rehashing the entire scenario, there’s this pre-Revolutionary Russian Count, placed under “House Arrest” at a luxury hotel he resides at, although now relocated from his former sumptuous suite to a constricted cubicle in the belfry. The plot chronicles his personal experiences over the decades.
But here’s the thing.
At one point in my “reading”, I hop onto the treadmill, I excitedly press “Play”, and suddenly,
This erstwhile Russian nobleman is a now waiter at the elegant hotel restaurant he once regularly patronized.
With nary a mention of what happened!
(In a book that’s takes a page to describe furniture.)
At first, I thought I had accidentally skipped a disk, the one where they explain this surprise transition. But I hadn’t. The book goes, “He’s a Count – he’s a waiter.” And proceeds obliviously from there.
You know “The dog ate my homework?” Could some household pet, I wondered, have consumed the author’s “When He Becomes A Waiter” chapter, and, facing an imminent deadline, he delivered the manuscript without it, hoping nobody would notice?
How can we not notice?
Suddenly, our aristocratic “Title Character’s” wearing a white “Waiter’s Jacket” and taking orders for pot roast.
I’m telling you, no sitcom writer could get away with such shenanigans.
“Mary Richards worked in a newsroom. Suddenly, she’s a ‘Flight Attendant’?”
So there’s that. The “Inexplicable Skip-Over.”
And now, “The Incredible Happenstance.”
How do I compress this? (“Compressing”, identifiably not my forte.)
The Count’s arch-nemesis at the hotel feasts on a punishing predicament, sure to be devastating to the story’s protagonist. Suddenly, a renowned and politically powerful actress – the Count’s longtime inamorata, secreted in the adjacent room to which the Count has gained access via the cubicle’s clothes closet manageably expanding his cramped surroundings – appears “out of nowhere”, instantly kiboshing the impending crisis, thereby eliminating the Count’s harrowing concern.
Facing the arch-nemesis’s confounded reaction, the materialized “diva” actress proclaims,
“What’s the matter? Have you never seen a beautiful woman come out of a closet before?”
Sure. In a Feydeau farce. But in a previously credible narrative?
What are we talking about?
“The Incredible Happenstance.”
And they expect me to go,
And not vociferously exclaim,
(I just symbolically slapped my palm onto my forehead.)
Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock famously branded it “Icebox Logic.” You do not notice the cavernous story loophole until you get home and open your icebox, the delayed response somehow exonerating the scenarial “boo-boo.”
Maybe if you’re a celebrated director, or your brilliant novel – beyond the unclarified “Count-Waiter” transformation – is otherwise flawless…
I don’t know.
How do those guys sleep at night?