The last blog. A bit of a relief, I always feel like I'm boring everyone to tears... Reviews are starting to come in, in earnest, and, bad or terrific, it's really strange to read about one's own book. The kind of book you think you wrote
is not the kind of book other people think you wrote.
It's bound to happen. It's that "go out into the world and make your way" thing. This idea of the American Dream that reviewers and readers have been referring to about my novel has been interesting. I've always thought I wrote about failure. Even before I started this book, it is the undercurrent, emotionally anyway, of what brings me to material, this feeling of dashed dreams, never fulfilled ones. The story to me for a character is in all the things he can never have, or everything she's lost. In many ways, as we've learned in school over and over, the American Dream was often unattainable, unreal, non-existent, a nightmare, but when do we know our dreams come true?
This, I reason, is why I can't get enough of the theater. And musical theater. Musical theater (several of the characters in my novel are involved in the business) is this great American tradition ? Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein. And all my favorites ? Guys and Dolls, Gigi, Annie, whatever ? are about starting with nothing and getting everything. (The girl, the girl, the money, parents...) I met Joel Stein's granddaughter in a Brooklyn boutique the other day ? he wrote Fiddler on the Roof ? and it struck me how the beginning of the reign of Broadway was not that long ago. When I was writing, I wished for the musical: the too muchness of things on the page, be it emotion, plot, a joke, whatever, in a musical this is the signal to burst into song.
Of course this is impossible on the page, but then, carrying this a bit further, I kept thinking of the stage as the great immigrant experience. The stage name is like the name we change or the name given to us when we get stamped at Ellis Island. And then the transforming into character ? assimilating, perhaps ? though the actor comes back to himself, in theory, after a performance. What happens to the immigrant? Does she get lost in a culture or does she, in her children or grandchildren even, come back in some way as herself again?
I was reading this article on stage fright in last week's New Yorker ? it was remarkable because ultimately what happens when an actor suffers from stage fright, is he or she becomes more and more himself. This is what causes the sweating and shaking and the inability to perform at all. The more the body reacts, of course, the less possible it is to go on. And he is left with only himself in front of an entire audience, with nowhere to hide. Perhaps the rest of us feel this every day without our characters to hide behind and beneath. And I imagine why we have the highly developed personas ? some more developed than others ? to get us through our days.
Poor writers. They're forced to read from their books, and though the characters are them per se, they are only themselves reading. I'm sure by now you can see where this is going...
This has been a great week ? thanks so much for reading!