Friday, September 4, 2009

Does this look real to you?

When I was living in New York I had an idea for a novel. The protagonist was a night janitor at the Museum of Natural History. He swept floors and polished windows and spoke only to the animals entombed in their Plexiglas dioramas. Several times a week I went to the museum to sit on a bench in the Hall of North American Mammals and write.

I realized after writing 30 or so pages that my tale had no plot—just scene after scene of the lifeless animals, the janitor, and his unfathomable internal monologue. Clearly my novel needed other human characters. I invented two friends for the janitor: an insomniac cab driver and an Albanian woman who sold pretzels from a pushcart in front of the museum.

I tinkered with my three characters for weeks, trying to make their lives intersect in compelling ways. But it didn't work. It was wooden, artificial; I couldn't breathe life into any of it. The janitor was incapable of love or friendship, unable to function outside his narrow universe. Poor man, it was not his fault; I had made him that way. I scribbled on, imprisoned in my pointless story until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I closed my notebook. From my bench in North American Mammals I noticed a small boy gazing at a snarling bobcat.

“Does that look real to you?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Why not?”

He looked at me as if I were a complete idiot. “Because it’s not moving and it’s stuffed.”

4 comments:

CJGallegos said...

Okay, I think you can save this novel if,and only if, you include the boy in the book. (If you don't want it, can I have it? I'm novel-less at the moment.)

Tai said...

The boy wanted to be a character in his own novel. It figures.

shawn said...

your story sounds like a combination of Life of Pi and Night at the Museum ... but much much much better ... the bobcat and the boy become characters in the tale ... and ... well ... the lives intersect and the story unfolds ... but then at the end, they return to where they are ... a stuffed animal behind glass, a unloved and unlovable crank and a cynical little boy ... and in the centre of it all is a female writer sitting on a bench pen in hand waiting for the story that has just risen and fallen around her ... ALL in the twinkling of an eye ... or so it seems ...

Travel deep into the wardrobe Tai ... past the fur coats to the land of story and myth ...

Tai said...

I'd love to hear you tell this story to your girls, Shawn. I bet it would be a doosy.