Saturday, January 05, 2008

on being codependent in behalf of one's character

So today I wrote a chapter in which a beloved character kills herself. I was going to hold off on it for awhile, play out a few more "getting to know you" scenes, but as I tried to weave those together, I realized that the tempo was right for this to happen now--not three chapters from now.

A curious side effect of this was that I decided to hang on to my protagonist's inability to face the impending death of the suicide character (who was slated to die of cancer) by letting her play out the scene she (I) would have rather experienced. One in which all family wounds are healed over a big family dinner. A ridiculously sentimental conceit that not only would not have worked in and of itself, but would have pulled the whole manuscript into flatness.

In my "solution," I allow my narrator to envision an over-the-top, lovely dinner party, providing, I hope, respite from the dark, painful actual event, as well as an overlay of sympathy for this rube of a woman, who must then go on and continue on her heroic journey through the nether-regions. Here's a snippet of the stalling tactic she employs as she ascends the staircase where tragedy awaits:

The trickling water through the wall suddenly stops. It is quiet with the loudness of dread. No stomp, stomp, stomp. Just the beat of the engine under my apronned chest. My legs, suddenly without muscle or bone, begin to bend and move and then climb up the back stairway. Ghost legs. Phantom limbs. Somebody’s voice, not mine, but somebody’s, asks if everything’s okay. It has a slightly British sound, this voice of inquiry. Grandmother, but not Grandmother. Maybe someone screams out. Maybe it’s Annika. Maybe it’s Cherry. Maybe it’s the UPS guy slipping a disc picking up the box with the andirons. Boiling lobster smells compete with burning endive. My hand is wrapped around a high ball glass of mostly ice and tonic. How many times have the women of Watch Hill ascended this staircase accompanied by a glass of gin?

Ah, where would we be, us novelists, without booze and prodigality.

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