[Scene: Inside a secret government compound, Patchogue]
GENERAL FORTISSIMO: Dammit, Billy Joel! You’re the only man who can save Long Island from being wiped off the face of the Earth by that rampaging giant lizard! Godzilla has already stomped Sagaponack and is currently quashing Quogue.
BILLY JOEL: General, I told you, I’m retired from the monster-slaying game. Let the younger troubadours save the world for a change. Have you tried Bruno Mars?
GENERAL FORTISSIMO: Young musicians… they don’t have your work ethic, your knowledge, your arsenal of laser cannons. It’s you, Billy Joel. You defeated Godzilla before and you can do it again.
BILLY JOEL: But, General. A man only writes a song like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” once in his lifetime.
GENERAL FORTISSIMO: And it crushed him! He couldn’t withstand that musical onslaught and he retreated to the sea.
BILLY JOEL: But I haven’t made a pop song for 30 years… What do I write? “We Still Didn’t Start the Fire”?
GENERAL FORTISSIMO: No!
BILLY JOEL: “Godzilla Started the Fire”?
GENERAL FORTISSIMO: Dammit, Billy Joel, no! Something good, like the old stuff.
BILLY JOEL: All right! I’ll do it! But I’m going to need some help…
Happy summer, everyone! Inspired by the 20th anniversary of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, I decided to dabble in a little literary retro-criticism. The piece below originally appeared in The Sherbrooke Record, July 9, 2021. WARNING! NOTHING BUT SPOILERS AHEAD!
Before Ian McEwan published Atonement in 2001, he had already earned significant acclaim, including the 1998 Booker Prize for his previous novel Amsterdam. But it was Atonement that made McEwan a household name, due in large part to its ending, which included not one twist but two.
What becomes of a novel, though, after the surprise is revealed? On the twentieth anniversary of its publication, and with the cats well out of the bag, is Atonement worth re-reading?
The novel’s first section is set in England in 1935 at the pastoral home of the Tallis family. Thirteen-year-old Briony, who fancies herself a writer, witnesses a scene between her sister Cecilia and Robbie, the son of a servant. Through misinterpretation and malice, Briony ultimately accuses Robbie of raping her young cousin Lola.
Part 2 is presented from Robbie’s perspective. Having served his sentence, he is now a soldier in France, badly wounded and in retreat to Dunkirk, determined to return to Cecilia. The section ends with Robbie losing consciousness.
How’s everyone’s spring going? Got that shot in the arm yet? Got two? Convaxulations! Me, I got the AstraZeneca and achieved full not-clotting status with only minimal worrying. Who knows what my second dose will be. I’m hoping it’ll be a combination of Pfizer and Marlboro cigarettes.
During my time away from my weekly column, I’ve been fitfully working on my novel manuscript. About a month ago it passed the 50,000-word mark, which I always like because then I can tell myself I just wrote The Great Gatsby. It’s at 76,000 now; if it were a human, it would be in its teenage years, all pimples, angst and lack of self-confidence.
I don’t so much have a writing routine as a writing stab-in-the-dark: when I’m not exhausted from work or the low-grade anxiety of life in 2021, I find a space, sometimes on the bed, stretch out with the laptop on my lap (one of those rare times when it really truly is a lap-top) and write until I lose feeling in my legs. Don’t kid yourself; I’m 55, so this is probably a thousand words, max.
Unlike my first novel, I’m not revising as I go, barely re-reading what I’m writing, in fact. This could be a terrible idea, we’ll see. I’m also allowing the characters more freedom to direct the plot rather than have an end point for them to get to. Again, this may not be a good idea. But the benefit of taking time between writing sessions is that these characters marinate in my head. By the time I get down to actual writing, I have an idea what they’re going to do. Sometimes, though, they surprise me. That’s fun. That’s magic!
Am I missing my weekly newspaper column and posts here on this blog? I can’t say I am, honestly, probably because the larger project has taken up most of the available creative air space. I’ve also had time to write some shorter pieces that have found publication elsewhere. In March, there was Christopher CrossFit FAQs at McSweeney’s. I got to riff on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in April (AITA For Not Wanting to Be Seen with My Donkey-Headed Boyfriend?), and this week I’m there again to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday and also to benefit from my lifelong misconception that Blood on the Tracks referred to literal blood on train tracks. The result is Bob Dylan’s Zombie Blood on the Tracks.
Finally, I had my first appearance at HAD, which is a very cool and weird journal of creative writing, mostly short. They accept submissions only during brief windows announced on Twitter, so you creative writer types should follow them as well. My piece is entitled Simple Mnemonic for Remembering Pi to the 30th Decimal.
My three-month hiatus from my newspaper column is supposed to end next week. Will it? I have to decide.
Other than that, got out camping, readied my garden and did not replace my toilet. I’m living my best life. You?
It was 17 years ago on this very day that we first ran across each other.* Do you remember? You were a longstanding, traditional newspaper readership and I was a fresh-faced columnist with a particularly bad head shot. Remember how suspicious you were of me at first? “Is this guy kidding?” you asked. Yes. Yes, most of the time I was.
Soon we came around to appreciating each other—me grateful to you for taking the time to read me every Thursday, you tolerating the occasional fart joke.
We had some laughs, didn’t we? That time in May 2006. A light chuckle on August 18, 2009. And who can forget the run of titters between February and April 2011?
Christopher CrossFit is an adult-oriented fitness program for men, women, and bodacious cowboys that focuses on strength, conditioning, endurance, and sailing. The program is specifically designed for people in the night whose bodies are weak and those on the run with no time to sleep. They’ve got to ride — ride like the wind — to be free again. Christopher CrossFit is a Toto workout that guarantees rock-hard abs and buns of Steely Dan. Christopher CrossFit: Never Be the Same.
Prostate cancer affects 1 in 8 white men but 1 in 3 black men. Every hour a man dies of Prostate cancer and it is the most common cancer of men in the UK. I wanted a detailed, warts and all account of prostate cancer, so I could make my own decisions. I could not find one, so I decided to write my own. I am now Trying to educate men, one small step at a time.