Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My father is a storyteller.

     Why even bother telling stories these days, when it seems that not only have they all been told, but they've all been re-hashed until all that remains of the original, fresh ingredients are little specks that look like shriveled pepper corns?  Especially when it comes to the eternally-unfinished business of the War Between the (American) States, known by Yankee historians and their followers as the American Civil War.  Hey, I capitalized "Yankee."  Isn't that respect enough?  No?  Oops.  Anyway, where was I before my Internal Policing Committee boarded my train of thought?  Stories have all been told.  So why can we not get enough of them?
     Hint: stories aren't about strangers or even familiar but impossibly larger-than-life figures.  They're about us.  It turns out that the whole universe is duplicated within our inner life.  We're all walking around with not only all the stuff that exists everywhere inside our heads, but even more importantly, the stuff that doesn't, but could, or should, or that we desperately wish had never been conceived.  Most of us never delve too deeply into the unreal side of ourselves.  Perhaps it seems like a waste of time, or it's too scary, or maybe it makes us feel things that blemish our neat self-portrait.
     My stepmother and I are putting the finishing touches on my father's last manuscript (of which I'm presently aware).  It's a novel about two boys who insinuate themselves into the last full-scale battle to be fought between the forces of the United States of America and her disgruntled, well-organized, European-funded agrarian resistance of the mid-nineteenth century.  Spoiler alert: Uncle Sam won.  However, this is not in the genre of self-congratulatory, pseudo-historical drivel derived from well-known PBS commentators on the subject.  Nor is it a historical retouching or naive whitewashing of vanquished heroes of the lost cause.  My father's novel is a tale about two boys who find themselves in over their heads in weird, unpredictable situations that often seem to have little to do with the greater context of the war just ending beyond the frame, despite the fine attention to historical detail provided.  It could be a story about my father and his best friend eluding the cops during some careless teenage escapade.  It could be about you doing much the same thing at some point in your life, whether in the past or future.
     The work took years to complete, and just as my father was struggling against the ravages of a stroke and multiple cancers, I'm proud to say that he finally typed "the end."  He passed away about three months later, leaving me with a manuscript and a firm desire to see it published.  The company with which he was working before his death has kept in contact with my stepmother about how to get the book out, and although we've both had our reservations, we're very pleased with the publisher's attitude and diligence.  We should see my father's book in print by the middle of this coming year.
     Losing my father's living, breathing body did not end my relationship with him.  His work still lives, and will live for as long as it graces the eyes and minds of readers hungry for something new, yet hauntingly familiar.  I love this story he wrote, even if he did plunder some of my work a bit.  It's difficult not to compare it to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but I don't think my father would mind a bit.  Sam Clemens would probably remark that even if my father did re-hash his characters, he wasn't the first author to do so, nor was he the worst.