Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Meta-fiction at its finest

So, because I’m a retard, I impulse bought Douglas Coupland’s “JPod” yesterday, while picking a few groceries at Save-On. I used the excuse that it was proudly boasting a 30% OFF sticker, which would knock a little more than 10 bucks off the cover price, making the first edition hardcover almost affordable.

Of course, I already had one new book to read, and two others – purchased even earlier – already on the go. Not to mention a collection of short stories purchased sometime last year that I still have yet to get through.

So, knowing that I was hard at work to ensure that I had a ton of books I’d never get around to reading, I focused my energies on finishing the last third of Peter Straub’s “In the Night Room” tonight. And I was glad I did.

Glad I had bought it too – I almost didn’t considering my last attempt at a Straub novel (Mr. X) left me less than thrilled. I had missed his next novel – “Lost Boy, Lost Girl” – and when I saw “In the Night Room” on the shelf, I struggled with whether to buy it. I’ve always been a big fan of Straub, his “Shadowland” among my favourite books of all time, but it was difficult to shake the bad taste that “Mr. X” had left in my mouth.

More than anything else, “In the Night Room” is a writer’s novel. Granted, I’m sure the twists and turns of the story would be entertaining to anyone who gave the book a chance, someone familiar with the processes – and sacrifices – of writing will get oh so much more out of it.

At the heart of it, the novel is a reminder to writers to respect the lives of the fictional characters they create and breathe life into, because in its own way, that process of writing is creation, of a sort. And those things that you breathed life into, didn’t live until the moment you breathed life into them.

I was reminded of a character I had written in a novel a few years ago – a novel I never got around to finishing – who I intended to kill at the end of the novel, only because she needed to die in order to teach the protagonist a lesson. And I couldn’t help but wonder, if I was writing that novel right now, if maybe I would give that creation a bit more respect, and let her have the life that she had fought so hard to have, instead of yanking it away as nothing more than a plot device.

“In the Night Room” also looks at the respect writers must give to the real world, which they mine day and night for material to use in their fiction. It’s a reminder that their source material, however fictionalized it may become, must be treated fairly as well. Simply slapping the label of “fiction” on something does not absolve you from bastardizing and poisoning the original, real-world source of that work.

It’s interesting to see a writer that in tune with the creative process, asking questions of that creative process, and that willing to strip it bare – and, in many ways, criticize himself. I’m now quite eager to get my hands on the Straub novel I managed to miss.

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