I’ll be standing there thinking I’m faking it, just staring ahead, and I’ll feel like I’m just pretending, waiting for someone to rush to me, the poor lonely kid with no one to love. I feel like that when I’m doing anything, eating, walking, crying, anything, and I’ll think that when I’m dying too. That’s how I am.*
(From “All In”.)
It was that plane – that was it – vanishing, a plane into a building and then that smoke billowing out, that sideways hole, and the other, turning as it hit, nose out perfectly and fireballs, screaming on the ground and crap everywhere and watching and watching, the building coming down, its radio antennae like a hat, a boy’s hat, and puffing out, all of it sinking, the dust of it, bits sticking up. And then everyone saying childish things because that’s all they had and listening and waiting for better angles and thinking it might mean something, to give it meaning, something like this, this thing, impossible and obvious, and not doing anything, just watching, footage, pictures, and thinking that it must be something. 9-11. A phone number, nothing. * (*From All In)
My last novel, All In (2005), centers on a character killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The book is told from three different voices (his brother, niece and wife) months and years after the events. The most powerful voice is, of course, that of his wife, Cheryl. We argued. That’s how I left him. I walked away because I wasn’t listening. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t even an argument. And then I was on the elevator. There was a stout woman across from me; she had folds in her arms, bulging layers at her elbows and shoulders. It was ridiculous how I never said what I wanted. I was angry at him, and I didn’t know why. It was all so ridiculous. I waited in the sky lobby. There was an attendant there from the restaurant; the express wasn’t working. Her fingernails were red. I wasn’t going to call him. He would call me. And then I heard it; it was a vibration and then much louder than that. I stopped and was going to turn to see what it was. I knew it was somewhere else, this sound coming in. I held myself there, twisted against the ground. I couldn’t move. There was only the light on the floor and my hand out in front of me. I was on my side. I couldn’t hear anything and then it was sharp and bright, knocking me flat again so that I was holding against myself, thinking of what I must have broken and where my purse had gone. I was looking across, how the light was orange and grey, and there was the woman, the attendant with red nails, hunched and then standing. I wasn’t going to move. And then I was sitting and trying to think. I smelt gas. It was something they would have to fix. I could see out the window, and there was smoke or fog, something that made it so I couldn’t look out without my hand on my eyes. I couldn’t understand why no one was here. And then my phone was ringing. “Hello?”
Rarely do characters have just the one name. For example, in All In, the main character is called Michael by most, but also Mikey by a colleague and Mike by a niece. Why the difference? What makes him more of a Michael than a Mike? Is it the formality? Is he more of a two-syllable guy? What makes him a ‘Michael’?This is a key issue in my bad side. Everyone – family, friends and colleagues – call the main character “Dee”, until she arrives in Newfoundland, where all the people she meets call her “Deirdre”. She actually tries to correct them, but they won’t listen. It is a moment of transference that she has no control over. Many of the characters in The Life and Home of Gerbi Norberg are Ojibwa and therefore have names which are hard for the Western ear: Bezhinee, Pamequonaishcung, Zawanimkee and Asawasanay. It is nonsensical to shorten the names to Bez, Pam, Zaw and Ass. As much as that may help the reader move through the text, the lyrical nature – and hence integrity – of the characters is gone.