Sunday Salon: Where’d You Get That Point of View

Most of my reading today has been sample edits by a professional editing service of the first chapter of my novel.

A chief, and valid criticism, is my switching of point of view. It’s a common criticism of beginning novelists: break switches in point of view into sections or chapters, and, if possible, use only one point of view.

Given that I have two narrative lines, I will have to separate the shifts into sections or chapters.  Of course, I’ve also been noodling with the idea of switching POV from third to first person and setting the narrative up like Audrey Niffenegger does in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

But, I’m uncomfortable using first person narrative as a writer, even when the narrator is completely unlike myself.

This week POV seems to have been a theme of my readings: I wrote about the use of second person in Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, and I know that POV is one of the most important aspects of a story; it affects the whole perception of the narrative.

Getting that sample edit has been great. It has kept me thinking about my book and has given me the urge to think about fiction again, and writing and taking another look at my novel. I worked on it for two years and the edits have given me insight into the novel. I hope I am able to afford to work with this service on my full manuscript.

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Editor’s Note: This post has been written as part of Sunday Salon.

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100 Novels: A Point of View from You in Bright Lights, Big City

Bright Lights, Big City Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney


My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
In her Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose says in the 1980s the success of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City led to a “brief vogue, which has not entirely disappeared, for writing in the second person.”

Hemingway, of course, used second person fairly often, mixing that point of view with third and first person, to achieve what seems a distancing effect, the narrator talking to himself, thinking out loud to no one in particular.

And if you’ve read a lot of Hemingway, and Hemingway’s imitators in journalism, the “vogue” of second person, its novelty, seems less novel, even in a sustained novel-length narrative like Bright Lights. At first, as Prose notes, it reads like a “distracting tic,” but that seems to soon fade away as you read.

Indeed, as you read the novel, the second person seems appropriate to the character, who you discover is quite distant from his true self, and the use of second person is not a trick of style over substance.

“Like the one-sentence paragraph, the second-person point of view can also make us suspect that style is being used as a substitute for content,” Prose says.

You run into the danger of slipping into style over substance when using second person, Prose says, if you make “you” seem like a direct address to the reader. She says second person works best if “you” addresses “someone in particular, an individual to whom the story . . . is being addressed.”

At first you feel McInerney seems to be using this trick when he opens the novel with the following sentences: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head.”

McInerney, though, develops the character and his situation, and it becomes clear the narrator is addressing himself. At one point in his life, the narrator wasn’t the kind of guy who inhabited nightclubs fueled on Bolivian Marching Powder. He was, instead, the kind of guy, who, in a touching though melodramatic scene, would hold his mother’s hand as she lay dying of cancer.

He becomes the club-hopping, coke-tooting sort of guy, however, very quickly after his wife Amanda, a model, leaves him, and he hooks up with party animal Tad Allagash, an Ivy League, upper Manhattan version of Kerouac’s Neal Cassady (aka Dean Moriarty in On the Road.) At the same time, the narrator recognizes his fall into Allagash’s superficial world, and that world’s hazy shade of nihilistic winter undercutting the bright lights, big city appearances.

And though some critics have taken the book to task for its seeming nihilism (especially John Aldridge in Talents and Technicians, the novel has its darkly funny, Tom McGuane-ish moments, as when Allagash and the narrator trash the office of the narrator’s boss after the narrator gets fired from his job as a fact-checker at a prominent New York magazine, or when the narrator, in the novel’s final scene, bloody-nosed from snorting cocaine, pounces on a bag of hard rolls tossed to him by man loading a bakery truck.

100 Novels: Bright Lights, Big City

The novel I’ve chosen as the 60th in my 100-novels reading project is Jay MCInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. I first read this novel in my early twenties, about five or six years after it was published. Back then, it was so far away from my experience, I couldn’t relate, and didn’t find it as riveting as did some of my contemporaries; it, along with novels such as Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, also seemed just a rip-off of classic coming-of-a-bankrupt-generation novels such as Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises.

Now, however, I find it much more relevant, and can relate to the narrator, although I’m still far away from the dance clubs of upper Manhattan, the vast quantities of Bolivian Marching Powder (an excellent trope for cocaine, btw), and extensive hedonism. And, I’m looking forward to a lively read; I’m already about 30 pages in, and I’m finding it engaging.

As an aside: one of the things I’ve noticed with my reading project, especially when books are a reread, is that sometimes the books I’m reading do seem much more relevant to me now than they did when first read. It seems to fit the Heraclitian notion of never stepping into the same river twice, a cliche, I know, but the more I read, the truer this cliche seems.

Sunday Salon: More Notes on Orlando

I’m about 18 pages from finishing my read of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, and I thought I would take a break to share some notes I took yesterday when reading.

As intriguing as the gender switch is, another aspect I find fascinating is the form the novel takes — a fictional biography, unusual in its presentation.

Novels, especially in the 19th century, took the form of a biography, focusing specifically on one character and his or her interactions with society and history, and tended to focus on the character as he or she responded to a particular situation; thus the story followed, a narrative developed.

But Orlando’s shifts through gender and time breaks the narrative. Orlando seems to passively accept this movement. The biography’s narrative seems almost all situation, all part of the “halo of perception” Woolf prescribed for modernist fiction.

“Orlando lives through everything without really living through anything,” Jane Smiley writes in 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. “Woolf is after meaning rather than events, showing that events and their meaning do not necessarily coincide, and important actors in events do not necessarily understand them as well as peripheral witnesses do.”

The way Woolf presents the novel, though, demonstrates why novels are such a versatile form. They absorb almost every literary form — biography, autobiography, essay, even drama and poetry — whatever the writer needs to present her perception. I think its a great form for readers, simply because it encompasses such a diverse spectrum.

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Editor’s Note: This post has been written as part of Sunday Salon.

Friday Surf: Hanging Wallpaper with Hemingway

Found this via Bookslut:

Hemingway and Poe get a little DIY makeover in Hanging Wallpaper with Hemingway, excerpts from Sartre’s Sink by Mark Crick, a photographer and author who lives in London.

Here is a a bit about the book from Amazon UK:

For too long DIY books have suffered the neglect of the literary Establishment. Finally, here in one volume, are the essential DIY tips of the world’s greatest writers.

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And this via Conversational Reading:

The seven greatest stories in Esquire History.

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And I forgot to add A Brief Word to my list of writing links yesterday. Each week there is a writing prompt from the Writer’s League of Texas. Once you complete the writing you can submit it.