While working on Wire to Wire
, I noticed a problem. Not with the manuscript — though there were plenty of those also — but with water. Through the miracle of plumbing, water is normally routed very carefully through our house, just like yours. Properly channeled, it provides valuable services in the kitchen and bath. But suddenly, whenever anyone took a shower, water was leaping the channel. It was running around loose.
The water in question was supposed to come out of a pipe, make itself useful for showering purposes, and go back down another pipe. Instead it found an unknown passage out of the shower area, under the flooring, through the floorboards, and into the basement, where it celebrated its freedom like the rabid fans of a newly crowned championship team. By destroying things.
This required action. Untreated, the problem would eventually cause the entire bathroom to collapse, or so I imagined, perhaps taking part of the bedroom with it. Facing this situation, I did what any writer would do: I put a bucket under the leak and went back to work. I had deadlines to meet and priorities to keep straight.
Now, months have passed and the bucket's still there. The truth is, I don't know how to get the water back in its channel. I'm grateful, however, that it is water and not electricity that has gotten loose. Water may be destroying my house gradually, but fire would burn it down fast.
In Wire to Wire, people face similar problems. Slater, the main character, meets a power line in the opening scene; the electricity leaps out and lights him up like a torch. A leaky pole barn sets off his friend Harp. Trouble follows.
However, the two main forces that leap their channels in W2W aren't fire and water, but money and sex. Like other powerful forces, they have the potential to add a lot of comfort and pleasure to our lives — if we keep them under control. And the potential to destroy things when we don't.
In W2W, Harp most sharply feels the damage money can do when everything's for sale. "What used to be the world," he observes, "was becoming the marketplace. Anyone could see it wasn't square." A patch of vacant land that means something to him is doomed, he knows, because it "wasn't earning any income, and that attracted bulldozers."
But it's Charlie — equal parts drug-dealer and small-town puppet-master — who's really got the chops when it comes to the power of the buck. "These money guys from Chicago," he says to Harp, "do they have the right to flush away our future? Hell, no. But they have the power, see, and that's all that matters." Of course, Charlie has no real quarrel with that. He tells us later that the only feeling he really trusts is greed.
As for sex in the wilds of a small Northern Michigan town, well, there's a character named Rose who might have it under control. "If you can't hear the angels sing when you make love," she says at one point, "you're not doing it right." For others, it's possible the angels have fled.
If that seems a bit harsh, I'd say the real world's not faring a whole lot better. Look at the Wall Street Meltdown or the Sex Scandal of the Week. Remember when wide stance, walking the Appalachian Trail and client number nine were all the buzz? How long before Enron and Bernie Madoff fade and are replaced by the next generation of snake-oil sellers? The fictional town of Wolverine comes off pretty good compared to what we've got going out here.
The fact is, in fiction or real life, keeping forces like fire and water — or sex and money — under control is an unending struggle — one we're only sometimes good at. So yeah, I should really go fix that leak. At the same time, if the worst you end up with is a bucket in your basement, you should probably count yourself lucky.