“Weeks later, when I’d left Thebes and gone to stay with a friend in New York, Marie sent me a letter… . I cut the letter into hundreds of pieces, which I put in a paper bag. I planned to make a collage out of them and send it back to Marie by way of an answer. But unlike Celeste I wasn’t really a maker of collages, and when I moved out of my friend’s house I left the paper bag behind. I asked my friend about it months later, and he said he must have thrown it away.”
So, Luminous Airplanes jumps around: the narrative is fragmented, and proceeds more by association than by timeline; the majority of the action takes place in 2000, the present of the book, with sections from the protagonist’s past cropping up to explain or illuminate. This is one of the few moments we get a hint of the future (which always carries the danger of breaking up suspension of disbelief; we accept that the novel exists as something which follows the action, and in a first-person narrative supposes the protagonist’s survival into the present, and capacity to reflect, but hints forward at other actions risk breaking the fourth wall, to mix metaphors). But Luminous Airplanes isn’t always rigorous about its internal continuity; there are conversations that appear to be reported in full, which get followed by references the next morning to things that weren’t talked about; there are points that sent me flipping back to try to establish through-lines (and flipping back is not a common thing for this reader to do). I understand that, for some writers, maybe most writers, it’s necessary to establish a backstory, large swaths of experience and history, that do not make it on to the page, that only inform things in the most roundabout way — but these continuity problems, and Luminous Airplanes as a whole, gives the sense that the book is posterior or accessory to that bulk of imagined backstory; that no suspense is necessary, because the future is fixed and determined; and that the author absolutely could, if asked, produce the letter, the fragments, maybe a dry run or two at the potential collage.
“How had I left him out of my story? But here he was, and he wan’t the only one, I had left out all sorts of people, Momus for example, my friend at Bleak College who came very close to killing me because of something I told his girlfriend; and Deirdre, my girlfriend at Saint Hubert’s Prep, sorry, Dee!”
October 04, 2011, 12:32pm Comments