On Friday I bought Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale from the Pitt Book Center. I didn’t have a piece of mail to verify my address to the Carnegie Library, and I don’t think I’m allowed to rent from Hillman anymore, and I had been lamentably without a book for almost a week.
Honeymooners was written by Chuck Kinder, former director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Creative Writing department, until he had a triple by-pass a few years ago and stepped aside, or took a medical leave, or something. Published in 2001, he’d worked on it for something like 20 years. The book, and Kinder, were the basis for Grady Tripp and his novel in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. The main characters, apparently, are based on Kinder and his Stanford-era buddy Raymond Carver.
I’m about a hundred pages in, and as it is now it seems to be a novel about a couple of dirtbag writers going about getting drunk and tearing their lives apart. In honor of this topic and the author, I read a good forty pages yesterday ripped out of my gourd. This morning, when I first cracked the book, I remembered that where I’d left off, Ralph Crawford/Raymond Carver was drying out at an upscale clinic. Which I thought was kind of funny.
While the plot itself hasn’t really gotten me by the balls, there’s definitely some stuff that piques my interest. First off, Kinder cares very little about making his dialogue stand out for easy reading. The occasional em dash and consistent changes of narrative perspective are his biggest clues, and he expects the reader to be able to follow conversations with minimal direction from him.
I’ve gotten complaints about my dialogue before, and I’ve even more structured than he is, so it was nice to see. But I do like to put dialogue in the middle of sentences and I hate “he said” “she said” and the like — they make me uncomfortable.
He also includes in the dialogue these incredibly irritating and repetitious verbal tics, like constant references by characters to the other as “Jim old dog” or “Ralph old dog.” This isn’t beautiful writing in the least but it could very well be accurate. There’s a section I recently wrote — I’ve been writing entirely in monologue and dialogue this summer, for some reason — in which my character obsessively begins sentences with the word “but.” I happen to find it somewhat ugly to read, but it’s “accurate” to this character.
If Alice reads this, she will be familiar with my Gabriel Garcia Marquez paradox, which is applicable here I believe. In Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Garcia Marquez writes about some incredibly depraved things, most notably that the narrator is purchasing himself a virgin prostitute for himself on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday. And yet it is still an incredibly beautiful novella. The ability to write about horrendous things and make the reader feel ok with those things simply by the beauty with which they’re described, that’s a feat. And I think I want to be there, as a writer, I think that’s a very fruitful area if it can be done right.