I've been wondering lately if, while writing every book I've written before my work-in-progress, I've been sort of hiding behind certain writerly tricks. What I mean is that in all of my novels so far I've put in a lot of things that were essentially jokes and games and commentary on other books and the like. You know, Shakespeare references, sly bits about the nature of fiction, allusions to classic novels and ancient myths, etc. Then there were formal games where I played with the structure of the narrative itself, sometimes as a way to comment on the story or themes but often just as an end to itself, as a way to do something different with the narrative.
My latest project, which is coming along slowly and painfully, has none of that. It's pretty bare bones, actually. There is very little in the way of double-meaning, there's nothing of the author being clever in a "we know this is a work of fiction so let's see what we can get away with" sort of way. There's just me and the characters and their actions and reactions. It's sort of naked, this narrative. I'm not doing anything with the story except telling it in the most direct way I can. Certainly I'm trying to make my prose beautiful and effective and startling, and certainly I'm trying to avoid every cliche that rears its ugly head, but I'm not working with the form of the narrative, the idea of how to tell a story.
As I say, it's been slow and painful. I'm not claiming that my metafictional or postmodern or High Modernist games have been a crutch, not at all. But I think that there's been some sort of shift in what I'm doing. For a few years I have been, I think, working with the Novel Itself as an artform, and now I'm just working with the Story Itself. I claim neither perspective as superior. Certainly I love the works of Nabokov and Kafka and Borges and Auster and Joyce and Woolf and Grass and a host of other writers who can't leave the narrative-as-object alone. Certainly I made no conscious decision to turn my back on my beloved Modernism. It just seems that this particular story will be best told in a straighforward way, and that's what I'm trying to do and it is, I find, not comfortable. I'm not even conscious while writing the damned thing that I'm doing anything different; it's just working out that way. Really, I can't quite say what's going on. A great deal of discomfort, that I know.
What's ironic is that I think I chose to write this one because it looked like it was going to be a lot easier to write than the book I had planned to write. That one has a sort of looping-back, nesting and sliced-up chronology that almost tells the story in reverse but doesn't, quite. I remember thinking I didn't have the energy for that but now I'm just being beaten down by this current damned story which is fairly clear. I look forward to finishing this one and starting on the one with the funky-ass shape (that's a technical term). I don't have any conclusions; I just have some observations, and maybe what I'm observing is not what I think I'm observing.
Anyway, this book I'm writing seems like it's radically different from anything I've written before, and that radical difference seems to be that it's more traditional than anything I've done before, and that seems to be harder to do that what I've done before, which makes you think, if you're me.