So, I went to NCIBA trade show on Friday evening and it was fun, if somewhat surreal. NCIBA stands for Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, so I got to sit at my little author table and chat with lots and lots of book sellers. Also sign galleys for them. I’d never signed my name so many times before. After a while, it started to dissolve. Actually, seeing a tabletop covered with multiples copies of my book had the same effect–something about all that repetition induces the same sort of vertigo as standing between two mirrors that are facing each other.
A couple of the book sellers already knew who I was, and even what I looked like. It occurred to me that this is what any amount of fame entails: people you don’t know know who you are. Which is… Spooky! Let’s just say I’m not worried about finding paparazzi digging through my trash, but still, having a public face to any degree requires some adjustment. At least I am not a memoirist, thank God. Fiction affords me a covering, however flimsy.
Meanwhile I am about 15,000 words into In The Red. While I know most of what happens in the story, it is dreadfully hard to make this narrative take any sort of shape since it insists on coming out in disorderly fragments. It’s like I’m getting shipments of hashed meat and bone from which I’m somehow supposed to eventually reconstitute the entire cow. Sometimes one of the bone pieces is sort of an interesting shape. This is a conversation between Irina and Andrei, shortly after he tells her a hypothesis about something that is awful, and yet has a certain air of inevitability:
“One body for another,” he said placidly, “that is the way it works.”
How did he do this? This relentless disdain for all people, this ability to carve them up until they were all selfish and rotten. It was a talent—a talent for making the world ugly? No, it was not that he made it ugly, how could he make it ugly sitting there all golden skin and lithe musculature and iron-gray eyes? Filled with stark knowledge, yes, but so beautiful himself he could make nothing ugly. It was worse. He stripped and peeled and sliced everything until loneliness bled out of every cut.
“Andrei,” I said, “you’re disgusting.”
I expected him to laugh then; that was mostly the way he ended these kinds of conversations. He never became offended. He was impossible to offend. At least he was true in that way.
He didn’t laugh. He looked at me very seriously, at the outline of my body that I’d pulled the sheet over while he remained naked. “How much more disgusting would I be,” he said, “if I came to you in the guise of a good man?”
I hadn’t thought of explicitly connecting these two things before: inability to be offended and being true. But when I put the words down on the page, they made sense. Say someone accuses you of something. If you know yourself completely and the accusation is true, it will not faze you because you know it already. If it is false, you will merely feel a sense of dim puzzlement as to where your accuser could have gotten such an idea. If you react explosively with HOW DARE YOU? then somewhere along the line, you have told yourself a lie, and indignation is the handiest way to keep yourself from acknowledging it. Being offended is the defense mechanism of the false.
And that is only one of the cans of worms this roughly sketched scene decided to open. That is the problem with this book: I don’t know how to make order of it because it just keeps opening cans and there are worms everywhere.