Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Writing and Glen Duncan's Death of an Ordinary Man

I am always attracted by descriptions/commentary about the writing process or its effects. In Death of an Ordinary Man, Cheryl, the protagonist's wife, is an aspiring novelist, who "wanted mystery and danger, passion and the sordid affair with language, to make something out of her life" (p163). She has been sending her novel to publishers, with predictable results. Then one day, she gets IT: an acceptance letter from a publisher. Nathan is concerned about the effects of publication on Cheryl's life, and on his own.

"Cheryl knows all this. It came with the publisher's letter, along with a disinterested voice that said: A lot of this will have to change. Novels don't come out of a husband and three kids. You and I both know you have been dreading this, the licence to live properly, by which you and I both know we mean dangerously, ravenously and with unstinted curiosity. Get out and hurt and beatify yourself, shove yourself through things. It won't come without damage and loss. Unless of course we're talking about a hobby." (p135)

Her life WILL change, but not because of her, and not because of her writing. The changes don't have the expected result; it seems novels flowed because of the husband and the three kids, not in spite of them... But they don't know this yet, and neither do we.

"It's incredible how unnatural [Nathan] feels with her. He kisses her on the cheek and she squeezes his arms. Then she backs and sits on the bottom stair, knees together, feet apart, still with the letter crushed like a flower under her nose. She's close to tears. He understands: all the years, all the bits of writing time snatched in lunch hours, docked from sleep, scraped from the edges of all the other things she's had to do. She's being given what she's waited for and it isn't how she's imagined it would be. Something else dawns on him: this won't be enough, either. He's relieved and therefore ashamed." (p137)

Moments like this are why I liked this novel -- ordinary moments that illuminate the uncomfortable, petty, flawed, and oh-so-human side of Duncan's characters, and by extension, of ourselves.

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