I used to love playing a game of Clue on a summer's night, listening to the crickets or the sound of waves rolling along the shoreline. The game had a simple premise: There were a few suspects (Professor Plum, Mrs. White and the rest), a few weapons (the lead pipe, the rope, the revolver, and so on), and a few rooms (the Conservatory, the Kitchen, the Library). And the players went through a process of deduction in order to be the first one to guess the right murder suspect, weapon, and location.
In his short story "A Game of Clue," (collected in The Barnum Museum) Steven Millhauser imagines Colonel Mustard seducing Miss Scarlett, among other things. I had Millhauser at the back of my mind when I came up with the ludic spirit and suspects and murder weapons in Centuries of June. After I first read Millhauser's wonderful novel Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright, I have read everything else he's published.
He makes reading fun, and as a writer I find his attitudes about reality freeing. In an interview with Failbetter.com, he was asked, "What continues to attract you to messing with reality?"
I mess with reality in the name of reality. Another way of putting it is that I don't mess with reality. I mess with the assumption that reality is perfectly captured by middle-of-the-road realist fiction. I'd argue that the conventions of the realist story don't begin to do justice to the blazing thing that deserves the name of reality.
That blazing thing that deserves the name of reality. The inner reality. The reality conjured by the imagination.
Writing, indeed all of the arts, might well be the way we all play with reality. Not just the "self expression" of the dancer or the poet or the painter. Self expression is overrated, or, that is to say, it ain't necessarily art.
Art is in the playing, in the actual creating, the play of the mind engaged in shaping some internal dream or vision. The game, as readers, is to figure out the contours of that dream and be attuned to the details of that vision. Together — writer and reader — we find that enchantment that lives in the pages of a book, that plays with the blazing thing we all hold so dear.
It's been a great week blogging at Powell's. I can easily picture its high stacks of books and the great restaurant across the street from the store in downtown Portland. If you get the chance, drop on by and dream awhile.
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Keith Donohue is an American novelist, the author of the national bestseller The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction. He also has written reviews for the Washington Post. He lives in Maryland near Washington, DC.
Books mentioned in this post
Keith Donohue is the author of Centuries of June