Sunday, February 5, 2012
The Genius of Eddie P. is What's Currently Rockin' Me
One night this week--I think it was Wednesday--I sat down to read a story from Edward P. Jones's Lost in the City. It was very late--past 1 a.m.--and the story was "A New Man." It's about a father who deals rather harshly with his daughter and she splits, just disappears.
The thing about this story is that you can feel the passage of time and the weight of this disappearance as the story goes on. As the pages drew close to the story's end, it became clear that she wasn't coming back. Was she dead? I don't know. And neither did her father and mother and you get a sense that they will never know.
This, for some reason, shook me. Maybe because I'm a father. I don't have the luxury of reading this story as a non-father so I don't know if I would be so moved. Perhaps it's because it was very late at night when I finished reading. Whatever it was I had a a real creeping sense of dread. Was she now a prostitute? In someone's sex dungeon? Trapped in prison? Happily married somewhere?
I couldn't go to sleep like that. All that not knowing. It was very, very late, but I remembered that some of the stories in Jones's next collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children are connected to stories in the first book. A little more research and I learned that just about all the stories are connected and both books are structured the same way: 14 stories in order from the youngest protagonist to the oldest. The first story in Lost is linked to the first in Hagar and the second stories are linked and on and on. I found the sequel, "A Rich Man" and settled myself enough to sleep.
There is something about linked narratives that really drives me crazy. I'm not sure what I love about the idea of discreet fictional worlds colliding. I'm not sure I want to look into it too deeply. I construct my work with such connections. From time to time I pick up Joyce's Dubliners and look for the subtle connections and that's fun. I also do that with August Wilson's 10-play cycle. In an interview, Jones touches on establishing such connections. He even says if he writes a third collection, he will continue this format and says that even his novel may be connected to these narratives.
I really wish I knew about these connections the whole time. It would have opened up a whole new way to read these books--first the opening salvo in Lost and then the continuation of that story in Hagar as if the stories are parts of the same book. That way it feels as if Jones is edging up on a new genre. Something wholly different than the short story. He's not, but his world is so expansive it often feels like a 3D picture is passing all around me. Much more so in Hagar than in Lost.
When I'm done with these books I plan to go back to the beginning and read them together so I can get lost in the genius of it all because I really love what Eddie P. is doing. I love it a whole lot.