A year ago today, I began to serialize Meets Girl, then published it in paperback and on Kindle over the Thanksgiving holiday, three weeks into its serialization. I refrained from writing about it for a couple of reasons, the most major being that I didn’t want to spoil anything for anyone. However, given that a year–give or take–has passed, I feel the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired.
So I thought I’d take a moment to write about it. If you haven’t read it yet, pick it up here, for Kindle or in paperback, and come back.
If you have, more after the jump.
Like I said, there were a couple of reasons. Only one was spoilers. The other is an artistic question: how much should an artist talk about art? If there were more to say, wouldn’t it be in the book? Shouldn’t it be in the book?
To be candid, I’ve also tended to disagree with the idea of the author as an “authority” even if that’s where we get the word. I’ve always supported the idea that published stories become part of the culture, which means authors need to relinquish their authority over them.
For example, though Jo Rowling claims that Albus Dumbledore is gay, his homosexuality isn’t explicitly stated in the books; Rowling’s interpretation of Dumbledore’s sexuality is one among many. It may have certain more authority than others—she certainly is the one most familiar and intimate with the books—but I don’t think it’s the only interpretation of the text.
Me, I can see how one might read Dumbledore’s character as that way, but his homosexuality has nothing to do with the story those books tell and is rather beside the point. Now, if Rowling chose to write a prequel detailing Dumbledore’s coming of age and dilemma of sexuality, I’d accept that as canon and explicit in the text (and thus, I’d accept Rowling’s interpretation of Dumbledore’s sexuality).
As usual, I digress.
Now, Meets Girl. I’ve mentioned it elsewhere (like here, on Allie Burke’s site): Meets Girl is a debut literary novel that, I think, can be read in a certain way as a satire of debut literary novels. I honestly think of it as like The Colbert Report of debut literary novels.
I don’t think that’s the only way one can read it, but then again I’ve always argued that the very best satires are indistinguishable as such. In fact, I’ve used the idea of satire in teaching composition, because creating a satire requires a mastery of the form being satired.
Which was actually good for me, because, to write a satire of debut literary novels, I had to successfully write a debut literary novel.
What, you may ask, is a debut literary novel? That’s a good question. My answer, as I see it, is that it’s a specific genre of novel. Writers’ first novels, of course, but they also tend to be semi-autobiographical. Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise is probably the single best example I can think of, but it’s certainly not the only one.
For the most part, debut literary novels show a lot of promise and talent, with some indication that the writer of said novel has a great deal of potential but hasn’t quite achieved it yet. They’re often messy, in terms of both language and structure.
It’s usually clear, I think, that they’re good, but after a few more books, the novelist in question might well write a great one.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated is arguably a good example of a debut literary novel; tons of promise, glimmers of real talent, but in the end more a sign of the potential for great books than a great book in itself.
Meets Girl began as my trying to tell a story about unrequited love and a Faustian bargain, but by the end of the process of writing it (which came after many, many unsuccessful drafts had been finished), I realized it was as much about writing and success as it was about love and Angus. It took me forever to realize that the narrator was so concentrated on getting an agent and a publishing contract he’d lost sight of the more important part, which was writing a good book.
Like I said, they tend to be semi-autobiographical.
Which meant that part of the story had to be struggling to tell the story successfully.
Which is how the meta aspect of the novel developed. To me, it reads as though the narrator frequently considers the books he loves mostly because he knows they accomplished what they set out to do, and he’s hoping he might, as well. I think by mentioning them, he is invoking they’re success, or perhaps he’s acknowledging their success and hoping to use them as a guide toward his own.
Funnily enough, those asides were originally very different, and far more semi-autobiographical. I think the novel as it stands is heavier on Dickens and Poe and Stevenson—all authors with work in the public domain. In earlier drafts, they’d skewed more toward current popular writers, including Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
Why the change?
Money, mostly. And copyright.
Current popular writers can’t give permission to quote published work; only their publishers can, and those publishers tend to do so only for exorbitant fees. Which I actually mention at the start of the second act in the novel, if I’m not mistaken.
So, to avoid legal headaches and permissions scavenger hunts, I just used quotes from old dead guys. A few people took those asides to be my own attempt to put myself alongside those genius writers, but I think that misses the mark on two counts, the first of which being that they weren’t my first-choice quotes, and the second, more important being that they seem to mistake the narrator for me.
At the end of Meets Girl, the up-to-that-point unnamed narrator indicates that readers already know his name, as it’s on the cover or at the tops of the pages or somehow otherwise apparent. He claims his name is William Entrekin.
It may be. To be candid, I don’t know either way.
For my money, I don’t trust the narrator. He seems utterly unreliable to me, and mentions several times he’ll pull out every trick in the book to successfully tell the story. At one point, he asks the reader to trust him, and then asks why the reader might do so.
I can see why readers would trust him and take him at his word, but I have trouble doing so. Maybe it’s because, in writing the novel, I spent a lot more time with that narrator than most people and got a better idea of his character, and noticed things about the narrator that the narrator managed to withhold from the book.
I have a theory that the narrator played fast and loose with the facts to tell the truth of the story, and especially that he remained deliberately elusive about the resolution. I can’t say for sure there was more to it, but I know that, extremely early on, the narrator mentions Veronica became furious with him, and I feel like there’s truth in his phrasing there.
Was the narrator’s totally meta ending a ploy to cover up something more dramatic? An attempt to use storytelling as a device to distract from relaying a confrontation with Veronica that would have ended with her more certainly demanding the friendship break she’d suggested not long before?
I’m not sure, to be candid, but the narrator seems to feel he told his story successfully, and anyway what do I know?
I’m just the writer.