In the early 1600s when Samuel de Champlain was bunking around the fire with people who lived on the shores of an enormous and beautiful lake, Champlain remarked in his journal how surprised he was that these strangers discussed their dreams every morning as if their dreams were as real as the waking world. I’ve been thinking about Champlain’s observance and how easily we can narrow our vision, completely discounting or ignoring pieces of our past and present.
A blog reader who sometimes mails me terrific books sent me Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative. As I’m finishing up a draft of my novel, the book has made me look harder at the novel’s structure. As a writer, I can’t help but look at my own tangled story — and those around me — and the way plot lines and patterns, how chance and opportunity, blend and shape our lives.
For Ray Carver fans (and who isn’t a fan, really? if not, you might want to be!), there’s a terrific essay on one of my favorite stories, “Where I’m Calling From.”
So often fictions that experiment formally do so at the expense of feeling. They toy on surfaces or are purely cerebral affairs, don’t explore human complexities. But the mostly unconventional narratives I’ve been discussing have dealt powerfully with core human matters.— Jane Alison
4 thoughts on “The Shape of Things.”
The Champlain reference reminded me of the movie The Black Robe about a Jesuit missionary in the Great Lakes region in the 17th C. One scene showed the Jesuit writing and a Native American questioning him about it. The missionary asks him for a detail about his life that NO ONE knows. The Jesuit writes it and tells the guy to take it to another European member of the party who tells the Indian the detail. Astonishment ensues. Is this not magic? I think good writers tell readers secrets that even they do not admit.
That is really interesting. I think you’re absolutely right about writers and secrets.
“…how chance and opportunity blend and shape our lives” . I sometimes reflect on how the arbitrary circumstance of my being raised in a devout Catholic family inadvertently led down paths that certainly helped lead me to the top of the hill here in North Danville. After I flunked out of Catholic high school my parents made me goto Tuesday night church youth group. There I made friends who introduced me to people that I’m still in touch with, and someone whose influence had a powerful effect on me, eventually leading to a transformative 13 years in San Francisco. And because my parents insisted that I could only go to a Catholic college, I met my friend Jack, a lifelong friend, still, after 55 years. His companionship and confidences also a big influence. His invitation to visit after we both finally beat the draft got me 5 years in Madison Wisconsin in my 20’s. If I hadn’t been in California I wouldn’t have met the woman that I married, wouldn’t have the daughter that I do. Wouldn’t have moved to Burlington, etc,etc. Life…..
I love this story! Thank you for sharing this!