Tuesday, June 06, 2017


"Rust and Bone"

"Novels,” depending on how elastic your definition may be, were in a stricter sense a form of prose narrative about the intense emotions and complications arising from “modern” life in the early Eighteenth Century.  Often they are individual-to-individual (which positions them close to romances) or deal with the struggle between individual and the group that doesn’t agree with that individual.  Such matters are controversial and sometimes novels are so vivid that they are considered corrupting and must be read with some discretion.  Almost porn.

But like all risky propositions, there is the possibility of great fame and even fortune.  Like rodeo bull-riding, or deep sea diving for treasure, or becoming a rock star.  The class that loves all this the most is the Middle Class, which is determined to be safe and prosperous, but loves to hear about those who risk.  The most recent twist on this writing category is a return to Robinson Crusoe and Fanny Hill — that is, the illusion of truth.  Instead of pretending to have found a cache of letters or a forgotten manuscript, the element of modern truth is re-focused on the writer.  The writer must be the one who risked.  “I alone escaped to tell you,” says the messenger in Job.

Ralph McInergy used that phrase for a title.  Here’s the description of the book:  “I picked this book up during a spare hour—and hours later have scarcely been able to get back to anything else. This is a charming, bittersweet, witty, evocative, even romantic reminiscence of a wonderful life, teeming with children, penury, wild trips to Europe, sudden (and immense) success in writing (after many, many rejections), the love of a good woman—and her common sense, besides—and an incisive record of an amazing stretch of years from the Depression and World War II through Vatican Council II, and on into our own new century. Be prepared to weep a little, and laugh a little—it ought to be a movie. McInerny’s masterpiece!” 

Here’s the punch list:  “couldn’t put it down,”  “wonderful life,” “penury,” lots of children, “many, many rejections”, redeemed by a woman, major historical landmarks, “ought to be a movie”.  This is roughly the equivalent of a top ride at the World Bull-Riding competition.  You are now “published”, have the Good Horsekeeping Seal of Approval, and when people ask if you’ve been published, you can say yes.  It’s a little like being saved by Jesus.  You’re in.  Your Mama is proud.

I believed in that template of success for a long time.  My life has been plenty amazing and risky and I have the writing skills to get a book out of it.  The trouble is that publishing is dead.  You can’t be a winning bull-rider if there are no more rodeos.  And if people get tired of rodeo or would rather watch cage-fighting between humans, then there will be no more rodeos.  We’re not quite there yet.

But I’ve been thinking about the grand transformation from the solitary craft of writing a book of whatever kind into the group enterprise of mixed media — not just films of books, but film IN books, plus music and technical CGI, subtitles, magical cinematography and editing.  Promotion, internet distribution.

I just watched “Rust and Bone,” one of the many French-Belgian films with extraordinary vision.  A woman trains Orcas at a place like SeaWorld and accidentally loses her legs.  She encounters an undocumented man with a little son, a little blonde innocent who loves dogs.  The man’s only real skill is kick-boxing.  The story centers on their physical lives, the excruciating (crucifying) pain and damage, then the slow recoveries, the bonding.  Somehow in the end they all survive together.  For the moment.

This film had a depth and involvement usually only made possible by the individual’s capacity for empathy that can be reached with words, even if they’re told in print rather than out loud.  But was this story “published”?  Is it going to become a best seller that bourgeois people will leave out on their coffee table to show that they know about it?  The language spoken is French.  Training Orcas is now taboo.  Extreme fighting is illegal except in backwaters like Great Falls.  

And where did the author go?  “He” turns out (for the screenplay) to be a pair of partners, Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, (something like Merchant and Ivory) working from a book by Craig Davidson, a Canadian author of short stories and novels, who has published work under both his own name and — when he writes horror — the pen names Patrick Lestewka and Nick Cutter.  To create an experience the equivalent of a print novel, one needs a LOT of venture capital, a good crew, and possibly a partner.  No more scribble, scribble alone in the attic.  No more advances on the prospect of a best-seller — no more best seller.  The book, “Rust and Bone” (2005), is available for $1.69 on Amazon.  Two and a half stars.

I look at IMDB, the directory to the movie biz, and see that actors’ roles are listed in a time-line.  They show a lifetime body of work, sometimes plainly revealing growth or good luck, or the opposite.  I guess Amazon provides something like that for a writer, though lately editors have begun to horn in, taking the place of the supportive and guiding agent, something like a movie producer.  The traditional book publishing companies are regularly swallowing each other and then frakking back out into “named” specialty groups associated with certain people.  “Signature Imprints.”

Davidson, in order to promote his original novel called “Rust and Bone”, got into the ring to fight exhibition bouts twice, once in Canada and once in the US.  Both times his opponent was a poet and both times he lost.  I have no idea what that means, except that these days a writer is no longer a private person alone with his or her means of production.  Writing has become public, sensational, and “concept” rather than words.  Quite a bit more like bull-riding.

So to hell with best-sellers.  By now I have a body of work, though a publisher would be displeased that it is so various, so head-trippy, so inconsistent.  But for me, that was the point.  Trauma? A little.  I did escape to tell you.

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