That’s my current title for my second novel: Home Away Home. It may change—it’s changed many times before—but I think it fits the tale. And a quick check on B&N and Amazon didn’t reveal any other novels with that name.
Unlike The Unexpected Neighbor, I edited the shit out of Home Away Home (back when it was called Split Lives) and thought, at the end of the process, that I was finished.
Oh no. No no no.
Now, it is in better shape than was The Unexpected Neighbor before I got out the hatchet, but this baby still needs a sharp blade slicing through it, to wit:
It was Amy’s turn to breathe deeply. ‘You’ve been thinking?’ she enunciated. ‘Really? And when did all this deep thought occur? While you were doodling in your notebook? Out drinking with your friends?’ Her lips flatlined. ‘For chrissakes, Maggie, how can you say you’ve been thinking about this if you haven’t spoken to your dad or me about it?’ Amy watched as her daughter swung her leg against the side of the chair, carefully avoiding her mother’s face. ‘A wonderful education, and you want to throw it away, because you’ve been ‘thinking’. Jesus.’
Dixie wandered into the room, sniffing Maggie’s backpack before jutting her nose beneath Maggie’s overhanging hand. Her tail whisked the floor as Maggie stretched to scratch the long ridge. Dixie shook off her fingers, padding around to the front of the chair and climbing halfway in it. Maggie responded with a full embrace, bending over to rake her fingers through Dixie’s fur. ‘Dix. Gotta get the full treatment, don’t you?’ she mumbled into the dog’s ear.
‘What, you’ll talk to the dog, but not your parents.’ Amy leaned into the corner of the couch. ‘Good thinking.’
Maggie continued scratching Dixie, looking over the dog’s shoulder at her mom. ‘Just because I didn’t say anything to you doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it. I can think for myself, you know.’
‘Oh, really? Like the time you got so drunk your friends had to pour you out of the car on to the lawn? Or when you puked all over the neighbor’s driveway? Or when your dad caught you and Tom half-naked in the car?’
‘What does college have to do with cars?’
‘Don’t get smart with me!’ Amy propelled her body forward. ‘These past few years are not replete with shining examples of your analytical abilities.’ Dixie dropped down on all fours, and looked over to Amy. ‘What about the accident? You didn’t even think—that’s right, there’s that word again—you didn’t even think to wake us up to tell us.’ Amy’s lips again disappeared. ‘And you still have headaches, don’t you?’ Maggie raised her eyebrows and lowered her eyelids, saying nothing. ‘If it weren’t for all the bad decisions you made before that, I’d think that knock on your head was responsible for your faulty reasoning. But no, that’s just another result.’
That ain’t right.
One issue I’ve had in both novels is making my characters too knowing, such that any conversations are a kind of smooth and clear representation of any position one might hold. But that’s now how we are with one another. We hem and haw and circle around and get things wrong and don’t always have the words for our thoughts or feelings and don’t always even know what are out thoughts and feelings. We don’t always represent ourselves well or truly, and to offer dialogue which indicates that we do is to make the characters mouthpieces rather than people.
Did you ever read BF Skinner’s Walden II? Or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland? Or, goddess forbid, any Ayn Rand? There’s always a “point” to these stories, and the point matters more than anything else.
I’m not opposed to points, but it’s really fucking hard to make a novel with a point. Even Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 suffers from this, but the main set-up, of fire-fighters tasked with burning rather than saving from burning, is marvelous, and the action moves swiftly to its logical conclusion. As a short (very good bad) book it works, but stretched out to a Galtian thousand pages? Unbearable.
Anyway, I’m not interested in making points so much as offering a glimpse into the lives of these people for awhile. Yeah, I guess one possible takeaway is that even after a great rupture in one’s life, life still goes on. People may be changed by events (such as the aforementioned Maggie leaving home for good, and having no contact with her family), but they don’t have to be stopped by them.
That’s a pretty basic point, however, and pretty damned muted. I’d hope that readers could take any number of meanings from this novel—there are any number of dynamics to consider—and that I’d give them enough to find their own relationship to these people.
Yeah, I like control, and want to control my presentation of my characters, but I don’t want to cram myself into my readers’ heads and force them to see these folks through my own eyes. I want to use my control to make the characters separate from me, to make them their own people, with their own stories.
But that ain’t happening with the kind of dialogue I use, above.
Gotta sharpen that blade. . . .