Delaying the Beginning
Story. Perhaps the key lies in that word. I was offended by the beginning of this book as the writer gathers himself together to not write and throat-clears his way through lengthy descriptions of furniture. We’ve all sat through the exercise where you write about not writing. I’d even considered starting my next book with something similar. But in this case, Chapter 0 goes on for over 100 pages. I checked. I will at some point endure Chapter 0 because I genuinely like Kertesz and am interested in the story I think he will eventually tell, but I am rankled by the presumption that I will wade through this opening, even as I am trying to listen to why he started where he did. I am bothered because it goes against the writing rules.
I will stick with Kertesz because I think he is is pointedly refusing to conform to my expectations. Images of Soviet soldiers in lockstep make it easy to see how any work about the world behind the Iron Curtain should deal with conformity in some way. Conformity is something that’s sat in the back of our collective conscience since the Holocaust. In this book, Kertesz will ostensibly be writing about coming home from that holocaust to a totalitarian government. Maybe he is teaching me as a reader that my expectations make me as rigid and artificial as the Soviet regime.
In the US, we haven’t been fighting conformity as much as taking solace in it. My image of the Fifties (admittedly created from the movies) is one of uniformity. There was the wonderful breaking out of the Sixties but then all those rebellious youths settled down into the Eighties when it was important to be “In” and there were even acceptable ways to be “In” the “Out” group. I live in Seattle where cultural norms are so deeply embedded that the populace considers it a right to be (silently, passively) angry at transgressors.
What if those norms that we cling to are wrong? I fell loudly and hard in Westlake Park yesterday. The collective crowd did nothing but gawk. It was a homeless man—the type of person we push outside of our culture—who stopped to help me pick myself up. He was the only transgressor of the norms and conformity and I am grateful to him.
I understand most of the rules I have learned over the years about writing and life are arbitrary, but I think I needed Mr. Kertesz and the anonymous man in the plaid shirt to remind me just how hard they are to break out of. I hope someday to finish Fiasco and get to the story I was so craving, but I am glad I picked it up and the first forty pages have taught me more than I ever dreamed and I can’t wait to break some rules with my own writing—even if my own Chapter 0 won’t exceed six pages.
If this review made you want to read the book, pick up a copy of Fiasco from Powell’s Books. Your purchase keeps indie booksellers in business and I receive a commission.