“The hydraulics of the sentences” in Brian Evenson’s writing.

From a recent interview with Michael Kimball:

Evenson: I try to stay focused on the dynamics of the writing itself, to think a lot about the hydraulics of the sentences and the rhythms and sounds. When I do that, I think it allows for things to be sorted out on a more visceral and unconscious level, one in which they still can end up surprising me. I do end up thinking ahead a little bit-I don’t think you can completely help doing that-but it’s less a kind of thinking my way down one narrative path and more an attempt to keep several different possibilities at once simultaneously in the air until the last possible moment. When I do that, often what happens is that I end up suddenly reaching a possibility I hadn’t been juggling, even if it quickly starts to feel necessary or inevitable, as if it were the only really satisfying solution.

Kimball: Since you mentioned the last section of THE OPEN CURTAIN, I have to ask: How did you figure out that ending?

Evenson: The ending of THE OPEN CURTAIN only came about after I’d written four or five other possible final sections, in part or in full. There were probably at least 400-500 pages that I threw out, partly because I had too much of a conscious idea of what I thought the novel should do. One version ended up moving the characters into the polygamist Mormon colonies in Mexico (all that is left of that was distilled into a story called “Moran’s Mexico”). Another ended with the characters trapped in a room in which the walls were covered with teeth (an idea that makes a brief appearance in my story “The Body Politic”). Another ended with one of the characters trapped in a subterranean passage (something I’d done before in other stories). All of them had their strengths; any of them were good enough, but none of them felt right. I almost abandoned the novel, and then-partly due to something sparking with things I’d been reading, partly due with the realization that the book needed to go to a New York that was not New York-stumbled onto the formal structure of repetition that starts that final section. As soon as I did that, I knew it was what I’d been trying to reach. But it took years of agony and frustration to get there.

Kimball: I admire the discipline. How did you know that none of the other endings were right and the one that we all read was right?

Evenson: I don’t know if it’s something that should be admired. I think if I’d approached the book a little differently or been a little more trusting of the novel as a form, I wouldn’t have had so many failed attempts at the ending. I went into the book thinking of each part as a novella, since that seemed more manageable to me. That worked great for the first two sections, but when I got to the third, suddenly I realized that it had to work not only as a novella but also as a way of concluding the work as a whole. I wrote several perfectly good novellas, but they didn’t do enough for the book as a whole. After writing the final section that I ended up with, I went back and reread the first two parts and could see how things had been set up subconsciously for just that ending. The other endings felt forced and incomplete; this one, despite its strangeness, seemed to develop organically from what I’d written before.

Kimball also has a new interview with Robert Lopez, whose Part of this World and Kamby Bologno Mean River I recommend.


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