I’ve been catching up on my composite novels after realizing, some time back, that the reason I wasn’t writing a book wasn’t that I’m not inherently a writer as much as my natural rhythm and flow for writing came to me from my adoration of books that I never understood to be composite novels, or story cycles. So I read Winesburg, Ohio and The Martian Chronicles and The Women of Brewster Place without ever realizing that this is, in fact, the style that I would eventually write in without intending to do so. With hindsight, it’s nice to explore others in the form for examples of how to best adjust the machinery of stories and start stringing together the great fluttering belts linking things all together into a coherent whole in which the parts, too, are complete.
In the same way, my longtime love of Jean Shepherd, transmitted to me via my father’s focused delivery of fifth-generation bootlegs of his old radio show, in which he worked in the mode of sequential and interlinked narratives coming together to build epic serial adventures in Hammond, Indiana, has fed much of my stage work, where I mix and mutate and exchange stories on the fly, always open to swapping narratives in the possibility that that juxtaposition will open up a little window on something in the story I’d never noticed.
“When are you going to write that book?” I’m asked, and I have, really, though in the form of hundreds and hundreds of stories written over the past twenty-five years, but I wasted too much time thinking I was meant to write like we think novelists should write, following a single character through a single narrative, from beginning to end, unfolding over hundreds of pages to an expected or unexpected denouement.
I don’t know early on that my stories work that way, but as I’ve been listening to more and more podcasts, and thinking of how the best among them work much like those books made of other stories, and those serial narratives I’ve heard on old radio from before I was born, all floating on the same river, all following the same current to the same place, and I think maybe the revival of my own long, slumbering podcast should start where the book I’ve been writing would have started, and visit the same places.
When I was small, back in Scaggsville, when I’d wake up too early, while the world was still blue and cool and suspended, waiting for the day to catch up with all of the things around me, I’d slip out onto our front porch in my footie pajamas and stand there on the cracked concrete of our porch, listening. The whole world made a noise back then, a sort of distant singing note that hung in the air, as delicate as a flock of birds all heading in the same direction, and I thought, in some way, that it was the sound of the world turning on its axis.
I’d later realize that it was only the sound of the nearby interstate, and of all the tractor-trailers on their way from somewhere to somewhere else, just tires roaring on the then-new pavement of I-95 and filtered through trees and air and humidity until it became a chorus under everything, just like my congenital tinnitus, always there, everywhere.
I would forever be mistaken about things, and learn.
This is a way to be in the world.
© 2018 Joe Belknap Wall