Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Stories of Forgetting

by Stefan Merrill Block

First, a reminder: tonight, I'll be discussing and reading The Story of Forgetting at the San Francisco location of Book Passage. Please come! I promise that I'll read something obscene.

My estimate is bound to be rough: I wrote The Story of Forgetting on napkins, legal pads, journals, others' computers, and a series of moribund laptops. But, still, I don't believe it's an exaggeration to claim that in order to produce the 320 pages of The Story of Forgetting, I wrote over 1500.

There is a quote by Michelangelo, overused to threshold of cliche, but I still love it:

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

I feel similarly about writing, except instead of marble, I carve from the junk of unconscious (I use that word too much, there has to be a better one!), and instead of emancipating an angel, the body I try to release is my own neurotic, slouching, hopeful, sad self. Or not my self, exactly, but a mythic reconfiguration of my self, a self unbound to the obligations of everyday business, not bent to the requirements of being an actual person who needs to pay rent, find love, buy groceries, pass gas in private places where no one will hear or smell. The imagined, hidden book of my mythic self -as I admitted in my post on Monday - can probably never fully exist, but in order to come close, I think it's necessary for me to throw down hundreds of pages, then chisel away to the truer book inside.

I don't often think about the discarded debris that now clutters my abandoned computers and notebooks. When I do, I wince. Here is a sampling, followed -- at the bottom of this post-- by the official description of what the book became:

-The book, at first, followed the story of a 13-year-old girl who invents a neurological contraption, which --when placed on subjects' heads and flipped on -- allows people to see the face of God. The story followed this device's impact on a small Texas town.

-I spent a month or two writing the (mis)adventures of one of my novel's protagonists, Abel Haggard, on a disastrous trip to New York City.

-I have hundreds of pages of a picaresque, pastoral tale that follows the Texas childhood of Mae Haggard, one of the book's main characters.

-I wrote long passages in the voice of Seth's mother, as she descends into Alzheimer's. I cut these, two years ago, because they felt distracting. Now I sort of wish they were in the book.

-I have a hundred or so terrible pages dedicated to Seth's competition in a science fair.

-I have about twenty more unused fables of Isidora.

-I tried to write a memoir section about my own experiences with Alzheimer's that would comment on the rest of the text. An interesting idea maybe, but on the page it felt painfully self-conscious and a little pretentious.

I could go on. Instead, I think I'll go now to spend the afternoon writing pages that I'll almost certainly throw away.

Excerpt of the book's description from Random House:

Abel Haggard is an elderly hunchback who haunts the remnants of his family’s farm in the encroaching shadow of the Dallas suburbs, adrift in recollections of those he loved and lost long ago. As a young man, he believed himself to be “the one person too many”; now he is all that remains. Hundreds of miles to the south, in Austin, Seth Waller is a teenage “Master of Nothingness”–a prime specimen of that gangly, pimple-rashed, too-smart breed of adolescent that vanishes in a puff of sarcasm at the slightest threat of human contact. When his mother is diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s, Seth sets out on a quest to find her lost relatives and to conduct an "empirical investigation" that will uncover the truth of her genetic history. Though neither knows of the other’s existence, Abel and Seth are linked by a dual legacy: the disease that destroys the memories of those they love, and the story of Isidora–an edenic fantasy world free from the sorrows of remembrance, a land without memory where nothing is ever possessed, so nothing can be lost.

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