In the Land of Ago

A reading of 11.22.63 by Stephen King

3-front-quater-top-up-sunliner

 

How often do we think: “If only I could change this”, or, in whatever form, “if only I could have a second chance, go back, and do something different”? Going back, erasing, and changing the past is an old dream, the subject of countless tales and fiction works. Of course there is a second law of thermodynamics, to keep things simple, that says “no-can-do” – but still…

But imagine one could go back, reverse entropy, and travel back in time, would it be possible to change anything? Or, is the past resistant to change, obturate enough to stop, or at least oppose, a time-traveller interfering with what was, and, maybe, should be? And, even if the time traveller could change the past, what would be the cost? Perhaps more ominously: what would be the consequences?

Changing history is a special case. History, they say, is written by “the victors”, whoever they may be. It can also be rewritten, and this without, perhaps because of (not), going back to the past. There is the “official” version, and the “conspiracies”. A long-lasting, and still sinister, such story is that of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Jake Epping, not a crying man, is an English teacher at a high school in a small town in Maine. The year is 2011, and this is the end of term. Jake is, unique among his school colleagues, the customer of Al Templeton, the proud owner of the fat burgers diner. More than just a customer. He’s soon someone with whom Al is about to share a deadly secret. At the back of Al’s diner trailer is an anomaly: a fissure in time. Al has a mission, one he cannot complete, for he is dying of lung cancer. He wants Jake to take over, as he has identified Jake as someone who could, who will, bite at the bait. So Al teaches Jake, explains how this could work, and Jake listens. There is a first trial, then another. On the other side of the fissure it is Spring 1958, and America is young. Jake likes what he sees. He enjoys the fresh taste of root beer, the sweet air. Jake also has a personal objective: to prevent a domestic tragedy and help his friend Harry Dunning. The first leg of the story is there: the killing of Frank Dunning. Jake, armed with Al’s mission and notes, as well as dollars of the time, embarks on the journey.

Saving the Dunning family will take two attempts to get it “right”, or so Jake thinks. Then his personal odyssey will start , on the road to Dallas. For Al’s, now Jake’s, aim is to prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, nothing less. Jake has five years to adapt, plan, live, and, finally, execute Al’s mission.

Jake follows a route of nostalgia: an all-American Ford Sunliner, overnight stoppages in motels, drive-in cinemas, finally a small town, and an equally small school, in Texas. Later, much later, there will be Dallas and the horror. For a while it is (almost) paradise, his class, football, friends, a girl he falls in love with, America’s early 60’s: (almost) perfection.

Jake decides to stay, he won’t go back to 2011. But, in the end, he does. For fulfilling the mission has unpredictable consequences. When, on the threshold of his desperate return, Jake faces a dystopian 2011, he finally understand what Al had missed: that interfering with the strings of time has a price, and this is proportional to the change.

The novel concludes on a note of hope, an ending for which Stephen King credits his son, Joe Hill, at the end of the book.

11.22.63 is a great novel, to read, reread, and cherish. It is also a book to meditate on, seriously, listening carefully to the voice of its author.

Photo: Ford Sunliner 1958, via eclassicautos.com

 

3VisD #1 (NaNo ’14) #WritersWednesday

The Shining
She had much talent, at imitating people, acting the impossible, in turn the clown and the seductress, her smile an inescapable charm.

How well I remember her, and the hours, the long walks, the mist of the days, the early morning smell of coffee, the magic of love…

The witchMorning mistHow I wish to live those happy years again, the laughter, the games, her steps in the sand, her shadow in the woods…

And now she’s gone, far, so far even I can no longer reach her: so I will ask the witch to make the offer, taking those dreams back to where they belong, the deep and dark forest of the dead, where I shall seek her soul, for eternity.

Talking about Maxine

Takahiro Shimatsu I haven’t finished reading Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, and I will later adorn my Goodreads page with my conclusion. Suffice to say that Thomas Pynchon is, for this reader, one of the four vortices of the magic square, that which is at the heart of my love for contemporary American letters: Pynchon – Stephen King – Neal Stephenson – Bret Easton Ellis. Those guys are, to my mind,  America, through and through.

Re-reading Christian Lorentzen’s review of Bleeding Edge in the 26 September 2013 issue of the LRB, I found myself, a rare event, in some disagreement with the respected editor of the said LRB. Bleeding Edge is not, in my reading, “a period novel” about New-York City’s Silicon Alley, that is merely the backdrop. Bleeding Edge is, literary speaking, about the atrocity, about 9/11, in the same way as Gravity’s Rainbow is about the nazi weapons of reprisal, and their aftermath.

Pynchon’s genius, once again (as, in Gravity’s Rainbow, the surreal connection between Peenemünde and West Africa), is to link the Saudi-perpetrated-and-funded outrage with the preceding, less bloody, but no less potent, disaster: the collapse of the first corporate attempt to subjugate the Internet, known as the “*.com” bubble. The link – shadow of Stephenson’s Snow Crash – is DeepArcher, a “piece of code” that turns out to be a deep metaverse, malevolently seductive to the hero of the tale, Maxine Tarnow, fraud investigator by profession, and to survivors of the outrage. The book mentions a number of fraudulent plots, real or supposed, the main one being the subject of Maxine’s own quest for truth, about Gabriel Ice, corporate predator, pervert, double or triple agent, and purveyor of funds to shadowy Gulf’s paramilitaries.

Thus the novel skirts around the trinity: late capitalism – “War on Terror” and, finally – the Terrorists among us, bankrolled by successive US administrations (the “ben Ladin’s network” and its successors) and the Saudi’s evil empire. In the meantime we get the “period piece” about 2001, which could be described as the last year of innocence of the 21st century. Worse was to come.

Maxine, a hero for our time, is left, bemused, abused – on her own volition – but still kicking, incredibly.

I am taking my time to finish the book, and will write again. Incidentally, my definition of the atrocity, is my own, not Thomas Pynchon’s.

Related articles:

The Crying of September 11

The New American Way of War

Daily Prompt: Idyllic

What does your ideal community look like? How is it organized, and how is community life structured? What values does the community share?

Resistance, Norway What binds us is our love of life and aspiration for peace.  We are old and young, genders are equally represented: we hold councils – one member for twenty “residents” – every month, with a general assembly held every six months.  We have a small unarmed police force that reports to the council, it is there to protect the children and our older residents, if anyone threatens them.  We are tolerant of every creed and faith, of every sexual persuasion, providing children and vulnerable people are not put at risk.

This is a virtual community, although we are gradually buying some land for leisure activities and retreat.  The community is funded by its members, the residents, who contribute according to their means.   We value individuals’s right to privacy, to respect and equal status.  We have sworn to help those of us who need help because of poor health, age, or just bad luck.  We believe in the sanctity of the human body, and the eternity of the soul, and respect all religions.  Some of our members are wealthy, others are poor: we are all equal.

We do not bear arms, and several of us are veterans from recent or older wars.  We admire the Cathars, the Paris Commune and Spartacus. Our favourite novel is Stephen King’s The Stand.

For those who refuse to live in the real world: #Booker Award!

 Well, my dear friend Marina Sofia, who somehow finds time to write, has honoured this sinner of the very special Booker Award, and that seems to be particularly aimed at book lovers, and perhaps poets: indeed I am a book worm, if not totally immersed in fictional worlds… I have to say that among my fellow nominees I feel humble and perhaps not quite worthy –  this being typical (male?) timidity… Thank you Marina, your blog is a haven of sanity and calm in this hectic world! You were nominated by Pat Wood, and I must thank you also for allowing me to discover Pat’s wonderful blog.

I order, I will list my five currently most favourited novels, admit to what I am reading now, and, finally, risk nominating five innocent book lovers I admire…

I wrote “currently favourites” which shows what an unstable book lover this blogger is! It is a fact that favourites do change in time, as one reads, re-reads, and discovers new horizons…

At present (restricting myself to novels I read in the English language only, in so specific order):

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity Rainbow

James Ellroy, The Cold Six Thousand

Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire

Stephen King, The Stand

Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood…

Currently reading: Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao…

As to my five nominees – trying hard not to nominate readers already in receipt!

Donna B. McNicol, who writes her life, and is the inventor of the marvellously named Napping Blogger Award!

John Lavan, wondrous poet and world observer… who does live in reality!

Louise Hastings, the Wings of Beauty and the Phases of the Moon

Diana Lee, who sees life through beautiful eyes

Ash N. Finn, writer and survivor, a friend from Dublin.

 

On Gemini and an award

Seductive and addictive Gemini of http://geminisub.wordpress.com/ is a gifted sub and lovely blogger: if you have not yet visited her poetic blog Geminiwords please do without delay! Moreover Gemini was recently nominated for the Liebster Award by another delicious sub at http://thedreamingsub.wordpress.com/, and has honoured your servant by nominated him in turn! A big thank you to Gemini, in particular since this gives me the opportunity to visit some great bloggers in my co-nominees…

Some duties are attached to the award, such as posting eleven random facts about oneself, and answer eleven set questions. Then one should select eleven new nominees and post eleven new questions for them. Setting aside the question of why eleven  – may be you know reader, the origin of it! – I am more than happy to oblige with a slight variation (which I have used before), namely I’d rather post about some of my characters, who are by far much more interesting (I hope) than their creator! Anyway is there any better way to understand a writer, even one in training, than through her characters?

The questions:

1.What do you think is your greatest accomplishment so far? – Erm… possibly to have kept up with this blog which is my main training vehicle as writer!

2. What do you still want to accomplish?I have two novels in the work, and you can read some excerpts in these pages here. I want to complete them, and dependent on feedback, maybe publish them. How and when I have no idea at this point.

3. What was your favorite toy as a child? – my bike!

4. You can be a Disney villain princess hero for one day, which one and why? – Evidently Donald Duck 😛

5. What are you afraid to try of?  – I really can’t think of anything!

7.  Are you messy or a neat freak? – I am no freak, just a geek 🙂

8. What has been your favorite vacation? – Dolomiti/Dolomites/Dolomiten

9. Coffee or tea? – Most definitely coffee, but indulge in herbal tea in the evening, now you know!

10. What was the best gift you were ever given? – my fist novel by Stephen King

11. If you found out you were having a child, what would you name it?  Well, a bit tricky this, but referring the question to Gorgeous, she says: Jean-Pierre…

And now for the random facts:

  1. Given that he is my alter ego, I want first of all to mention Julian Dutoit: he’s the central character of The Page, which is a sweet story. Julian has one quality: he’s a good ten years younger than his creator! (he also has his own Facebook page!)
  2. Susan is still a half hidden secret. I mentioned her in my previous post. Susan holds a very dark secret, which, I am sure, must reflect my own inhibitions. I have said a bit more about her elsewhere in these pages.
  3. There is an entire crew, and you can read about them all here. This is a piece of work that draws from my obsessions with: a) The Pacific Ocean, b) Japan, c) Kafka on the Shore (the novel by Monsieur Murakami), d) Post-Soviet Russia… All of them hold a bit of me. Paul, the owner of the Arrakis, is married to Katrina, and what a pair!
  4. Melissa is Julian’s Nemesis, and her story is, in some distorted ways, that of the woman I never was. Melissa is dead, contrary to Susan who’s very much alive. Both are very present…
  5. Aomame is not one of my characters, but how I wish she could be! She’s the hero of 1Q84, of which more here. The more I think about her the more I admire her creator: a perfect woman, in all her imperfections, and an everlasting love, under the light of two moons: genius!
  6. Sarah is Julian’s wife and his anchor. There isn’t much space between her and… well, Gorgeous, my wife. Worship is an understatement for the feelings Julian has for her.
  7. Jane is Julian’s younger sister. There lies a deep nexus, but Jane is a good girl. So it is left to Susan to cross that border.
  8. In 1Q84 Tengo is Aomame’s love, and they meet, at last, right at the end of the novel. To me Tengo is a mystery, greater than even Kafka Tamura, the hero of Kafka on the Shore. Tengo was superbly gifted, but opted for the quiet life… Yet there is something incredibly powerful and attractive to him, and only Aomame can unravel the mystery.
  9. Piotr and Lara Nevelskoï are the skippers of the Arrakis. They represent  – arguably – a longing for a past which is now unfathomable, because history has moved on so much. They are twentieth century heroes. As obsolete as this writer in learning is!
  10. This and the following are closer to the writer: I do have a publisher, to be, and I hope she succeeds in her venture!
  11. I am a very slow writer, and cannot rush things. I need time.

Now for the “questions” – things that I hope are worth asking!

  1. Which fictional character do you wish you had created?
  2. Which historical person would you consider writing a novel about?
  3. Name a book you want to read but never had the opportunity to
  4. Name a writer you may wish to emulate
  5. Pen or keyboard?
  6. Scotch or vodka?
  7. On the Transsiberian to Vladivostock who would you wish to have as travelling companion?
  8. Sea or mountains?
  9. Glass or paper?
  10. Spring or Autumn?
  11. Water or Ice?

Tentative nominations:

Tentative because I am uncertain as who has already received this award! Of course it does not really matter, but still… All are bloggers who matter!

Guy at http://guylejeune.wordpress.com/ (brother in arms)

Mike at http://mattafoto.wordpress.com/ (fantastic shots)

Kathy at http://www.kathydisanto.com/about/ (a Pro)

Mindy at http://www.mindysue528.blogspot.co.uk/ (speaks, and writes, her mind)

Karen at http://www.thescarletdogma.com/ (a Pro, and outspoken)

Lady Day at http://rlbk75.wordpress.com/ (special to me, haiku poet and more)

Georgia at http://broadblogs.com/ (who knows about us!)

JWH at http://zombiemechanics.com/ (who knows about Zombies!)

(I haven’t counted!)

I love this badge: #Liebster Award!

 

 I blushed last night when I realised Damian had nominated me for this most challenging of award: the Liebster – love the name too. Damian “makes things up and writes them down” at The Gray Pen, which makes at least the two of us (smile), and admits “to write about the spooky things that go bump in the night”… Did he say also he was “digging the blog”? I am wondering what creepy things will come crawling out of that!

Damian received his badge from Maeve at Wings and Waters and I thank both of them, humbly. So, dear reader, I must invite you first of all to visit the blogs of those two writers – if you are not already acquainted. To fulfil my obligations as recipient I am answering Damian’s searching questions, before setting out some of my own. Incidentally WordPress says there are just under 200 followers of this blog, but I confess I do not know if those are all subscribers!

1. How long do you typically write per day?

Variable, it must be around three or four hours on average, but there days “sans”!

2. Name the books that have influenced your writing.

In no particular order: Stephen King’s “On Writing”, Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”, Jonathan Littell’s “Les Bienveillantes”, Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”, James Ellroy’s “The Cold Six Thousand”… And of course French writers the list of which is too long for this blog!

3. Are you a Genre writer, literary, or both?

No idea! As you do Damian, things creep out and I write them down…

4. Are you into self-publishing or traditional?

I am nowhere yet, but my dear friend Gillian (but she did change her name!) is threatening publication of my short stories “Helena“. Qui vivra verra…

5. Do you ever have problems harming your characters? Explain.

There is a BDSM streak in some of my writing so I must be “hurting” someone from time to time, but then “they” are willing. 

6. Do you like to plot or do you like to just jump into the page?

I do both, depends on the day, whether the sun shines or not, and my mood.

7. How many drafts do you write before you stop?

On my main piece of work, The Page – hahaha – I haven’t stopped editing yet. I use Scrivener and keep everything. Incidentally, this blog is very much my “lab”, where I try things out, invent new characters, and mess around!

8. What’s your proudest moment as a writer?

For me this is a difficult question: I had several moments of elation, perhaps it was when Gillian said she was considering publishing Helena. But then I write for pleasure, and there were others, such when I discovered the boat named Arrakis (still on the bench!)

9. How old were you when you began to write?

I was at primary school (year 6 UK), and was told off to do graffiti in my workbook! I never stopped.

10. In your opinion, can the craft of writing be taught?

I dunno, but Joanne has a lot to say about that.

11. Aren’t you glad I’m done asking questions?

You could have asked the ones below!

Questions of my own:

  1. Which existing fictional character would you wish to have created yourself?
  2. How important is it for you to be recognised as a writer (for example by being published in the traditional sense)?
  3. Is there a location – geographical or fictional – that you favour in your writing, both as inspiration and “best place where to write”?
  4. If you had the choice would you adopt writing as your central activity, as opposed to other bread and butter work? (please think carefully on this one!)
  5. Have you ever fallen in love with a character you created?
  6. What is the most important event of your lifetime, that is as influence on you as a writer?
  7. Has evil any place in your writing?
  8. What is your view on “Flash Fiction”, fad, useless exercise, helpful, …?
  9. If you could commission a book cover from an artist – past or present – who would that be (painter or photographer)?
  10. Do you have a favourite anthem?
  11. Is there a different question you would have wished me to ask?

My nominees (not sure about “subscribers” though!):

Joanne at http://joannegphillips.wordpress.com/

Ash at http://ashnfinn.wordpress.com/

Ciara at http://ciaraballintyne.com/index.html

Roxy at http://www.roxyfreeman.com/

Procrastinatress at http://themindssky.wordpress.com/

… And now, as Damian said, “once you’ve posted your answers, comment on this post with your post link so I can keep up with the answers!”

 

 

#BlogMeMaybe: May 8 – May I tell you something about myself?

Guilt

Crash

In “On Writing”, which is also a concentrated story of his life, Stephen King describes how, while on a walk, he was run over and nearly killed  by a mad driver. I too brushed with death in a car accident, some twenty years ago. And it was my fault: a brief loss of attention, tiredness, the usual story: that evening I should not have been driving at all. But I don’t not want to tell you, reader, about the circumstances. All car crashes are, in some way, due to one main reason: being there at the wrong time. What still interests me about that crash is the way rehabilitation came, the slow journey to recovery, mental and physical.

First there is a sense of guilt, of utter responsibility: the other driver I could have killed, his family, my family, my employer, whose car I wrecked, mankind in general. And of course there is the pain, the multiple fractures, the painkillers, the gloomy hospital wards, what one reads, or thinks one reads, in other people’s eyes. The first year is plain hell: guilt, pain and remorse. Concentration is impossible, there is always a loop back to that instant: the fraction of a second when it happens, when all goes dark. Sleep, normal sleep, is an old memory, now is the time of awake nightmares, restarting anew every night.

In the second year rehabilitation is merely a dream. But there is at least a chance to start exercising again, slowly, to walk, to read a bit. The shame is there, the fear of being damned, the total loss of confidence. There is also the realisation that “going back to normal” will not happen. The new normal is this: not only remembering, but having the accident constantly in mind, as a tune for ever imprinted in one’s skull, never escaped from. Another year goes by, work has changed, real world events unfold, people die. Slowly the awareness of the triviality of one small incident grows.

And then new habits are created: the daily life become a series of small exercises, attempts at recreating an order. Over a decade the body adapts, the pain is still there, but diffused, some strength comes back, and with it some confidence. And, today, I think I was just plain lucky.

#BlogMeMaybe: May 7 – May I tell you something about writing?

On Writing “On Writing” by Stephen King is the book that got me started, and keeps me going. When I first read Stephen’s account of his beginnings, and how he, somehow, overcame the odds stacked against him, I knew I would have to try. And of course I’m still trying, and this is the lesson.

This is pure genius:

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes.”

And the sublime: “I thought long and hard about whether or not to include a detailed section on grammar in this little book.”

“On writing” is about becoming a writer, by the master of the craft, still with us. Long live the King.