27 December 2008

A Chapter Opening Onto . . . ?

Thoughts on “Of Gnawing Time” in particular,
and Lee Schulte, writer, in general

The author Lee Schulte permitted me to read the opening chapter of his novel-in-progress; and it is a task to which I was looking forward, for I had been a reader of an earlier novel of his while it was in progress. I read it, in its entirety, on a northerly bus ride on Christmas Day; mulled upon it a couple of days; and re-read it (straight through, again) last night. That’s right: I read it, 83 pages in MS., late in the day (and after an evening of making some little merry), and it held on tight.

I like the balance of idea and narrative. There are places where the author illustrates/discusses issues; for another author with less skill, and more determination to dwell on the res, such passages would get so hidebound in the Issues, that the narrative had lost all steam. In “Of Gnawing Time” I think the balance is very well gauged: the ‘moral choice’ discussion (p.16ff), the sharp-but-still-friendly ‘ex nihilo’ argument (p.24ff), the ‘draft-avoidance seminarism’ plus general ‘America-the-self-loathing’ presented as a ‘rude awakening’ severally for Tom Schranker (p.32ff), James Sztajn (p.40ff) and for Anita (& Teresa?, p.40ff) with the ‘Gregorian chant / Latin / Vatican II’ bit nested within (p.36ff). There is a fair ‘load’, but it seems to me that the narrative has sufficient fuel and power to keep from stalling.

When P.G. Wodehouse was at work, he would have pages pinned up all over the walls while he fine-tuned; I seem to remember him quoted as saying that he had to make sure there was something amusing on every page. Schulte’s style is his own; yet, similarly (perhaps), he lets scarce a page go by, not necessarily without a joke per se, but without some wrily engaging turn of phrase. And yet, like Wodehouse, the effect is always natural, never forced.

On p.1, I saw “the toad not taken” coming, but it was still an amphibian delight. To whom else would I turn to learn of the unbridled mirth and frivolity of pharmacists? For subtle but well-turned gems such as “a tiny beige disgrace to the state’s name”?

A very nice echo, on p.34, of G.K. Chesterton’s “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” And the brutal, “Of course it was stupid! I said it happened in Tennessee,” on p.43.

And a subtly musical touch in the ‘repeating note’, the periodic reminder of “the eternal day of the Second of July.”

I’m only scratching the surface, here, but it is an opening chapter which incites eagerness to continue further.


Cato said...

Hi Karl!

An 83-page Chapter I?

Frightful! Yet interesting!


Karl Henning said...

Well, to be fair, just a line and a half spilt onto the 83rd page.