Sunday, December 20, 2009

What is Your Novel About?

William H. Gass on The Recognitions, quoted by Ricard Crary on The Existence Machine
No great book is explicable, and I shall not attempt to explain this one. An explanation--indeed, any explanation--would defile it, for reduction is precisely what a work of art opposes. Easy answers, convenient summaries, quiz questions, annotations, arrows, highlight lines, lists of its references, the numbers of its sources, echoes, and influences, an outline of its designs--useful as sometimes such helps are--nevertheless very seriously mislead. Guidebooks are useful, but only to what is past. Interpretation replaces the original with the lamest sort of substitute. It tames, disarms. "Okay, I get it," we say, dusting our hands, "and that takes care of that." "At last I understand Kafka" is a foolish and conceited remark.

I wish I had the moxie to recite that every time I'm asked, what is your novel about... or better, use it when I send out queries to agents or publishers in place of my miserable attempts at writing a synopsis . That's half my motivation for trying to get it in print... I just want someone to read the thing so they can tell me what the fuck it's about!


  1. Okay, okay, Jacob. I will read Magic Slate and tell you what the fuck it's about.

  2. Writing a syopsis or precis is just way harder than writing a novel.

    Or trying to explain what it's 'about.'

    ... well, you know, sorta like, you know... the narrator is sortov a kinda Nemesis.. like, the muse (oh, yeah--it's got Muses in it too, like... and this Nemesis is sortov the Muse of the Peter Principle! There you go! Why didn't I think of that--it's about the Peter Principle.... sort of. Everyone called to beyond the level of ... does that make sense?

    ... no?

    Yeah... lemme try that again...

  3. Actually... they may be the most acurate precis I've come up with yet.

    Nemesis: Muse of the Peter Principle!

    You think that'd work for a subtitle?

  4. Nemesis was my first working title... in 1996 But I had this hunch Phillip Roth would use it 20 years down the line.

    And damn, whaddya know? Only off by a year. I'm in the wrong business, that's what! I'm gonna get me some beads, a spangly dress, a crystal ball and start makin me some dough ray me!

  5. Ok this book is sounding really interesting now. AND- I want to see a snap of the beads and spangly dress you.

    Happy Solstice Jacob

  6. Happy Solstice back atcha, Lulu... only 15 more weeks till May and the bugs come back!

    From bugs to lions and lions to bugs.. .whata life!

    You mean so I get the year right? Oh... I forgot to mention Max Bodenheim! This book's got everything, sex violence Nemesis... and Max Bodenheim! That's the clincer... who's gonna turn down a chance to read about Max Bodenheim?

    ... I think I'm getting the hang of it now, maybe I'll get this sold someday afterall!

  7. Jacob,

    Pleasure to read you as a poet, philosopher, and now, as a novelist, and to see your thematic preoccupations expressed in the various modes. Very interesting and enlivening, how the ideas continue to be refined.

    I read Magic Slate as a creative distillation of your writing notebooks--free and unrestrained. There were many thrilling moments to be found in your descriptive passages. At your best, it was as if museum-quality figurative paintings were animated by the power of your words, so finely rendered were the colors, textures, backgrounds, and surfaces.

    I preferred the more concentrated style in the first half of the book. And throughout, I enjoyed your take on all the men-women stuff, especially as expressed in this wry laugh line:

    "I would cast her a doubtful glance, thinks George, but I'm not sure how it's done;..."

  8. Frances,

    Thank you for taking the time to read this poor lost artifact--and for your thoughts. Looking it over, I see a lot of formating cliches from the file transfer.. and still some typos to fix. Proofreading is ENDLESS.

    Also see that my still waiting-for-closure 2nd novel is much more of a continuation than I thought.. Could be Part Two... even the Cosmic Egg pseudo-myth thing... this time without the Big Bang.

    Description.. .maybe that's what's wrong. Way retro for post-avant. What you get coming from a family heavy with visual artists. I start writing and I SEE this stuff--with halucinigenic digital-dream clarity. The thematic connections come after--like interpreting a dream. Pretty much describes how I write fiction. Stories too, start with an image... a couple with actual dreams.

  9. Relentless is perhaps a more apt word. Or furious.