First, about the boyfriend. He actually was my high school boyfriend. Our subsequent relationship is to let twenty or so years go by until something puts us back in touch and we exchange a flurry of emails, have long phone conversations, and generally wonder why we let twenty years go by. As we are both now seventy-two years old, I have pointed out that we most likely don’t have another twenty-two going forward. For months we have had our usual talks that combine rehashing old memories with catching each other up on what we’ve been doing since we turned fifty–which was our last contact. We have exchanged photos of our grandchildren. I sent him a copy of a photograph of my father and the essay I wrote about it. He knew and liked Daddy. And somehow, I am sending him the current manuscript (still called The Wife) and he is reading it out loud to me over the phone. This week he was having some back pain and couldn’t sit for long, so he read two chapters and I began reading at Chapter Nineteen.
I hate Chapter Nineteen.
I’ve lost control. The Wife, which began as an attempt to write a short story, doesn’t show any signs of being a short story. It is fast approaching a length at which I can’t even call it a novella (a genre I’ve never really believed in, anyway). It seems to be nearly a hundred pages of a novel that is driven by two strong and fully developed main characters, and at least two others who have great potential. Nothing wrong with that. I like character-driven novels, and they are generally what I tend to write. So far, so good. Until I got to Chapter Nineteen that, now I consider it, is the point at which I attempted to let the plot carry me. The only problem is there doesn’t appear to be any plot.
But about Chapter Nineteen. It is dull. It is wooden. It goes into great detail about things like the hallway in a new school building. The dialogue is unconvincing. People don’t talk that way. What scant plot it manages is, not to put too fine a point on it, boring. As I read the chapter out loud to my high school boyfriend who appears to be enjoying watching my chaos at a safe distance (we have been at a safe distance since high school graduation in 1963), I was so appalled that I stopped at several places to exclaim some version of, “This is really terrible.” And so it is.
I believe this chapter, and possibly parts of a few others, can be salvaged. But it will not be an easy fix.
The alternative to fixing it is abandoning it, and I’m not ready to do that yet. So, instead of slipping away from Thanksgiving festivities to discover where Camilla and Martin will go from here, I will be avoiding for as long as possible facing the unwelcome task of a substantial rewrite of at least one chapter.
Maybe I’ll try designing the cover instead.