Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fictional Inspiration Can Come from Anywhere, Even a Dog

I spent last weekend in Toronto housesitting and dogsitting for a professor of mine, in exchange for money. Overall, it was a pleasant experience, as I got to hang out with an old friend who did her MA at Memorial and is at York now, and I experienced what it’s like to be a dog owner for four days. The dogs were pretty charismatic, and were well-trained enough to follow my orders after I was introduced. I’m rather glad it’s over, as this means I’m able to sleep past eight in the morning again. I think dogs are a bit too high maintenance for me.

One thing I did pick up was some interesting material I can use to structure the story of Undesirables, my suburban story. I’ve decide to give Michael, the male protagonist, a dog, and have him interact daily at the neighbourhood park with other morning dog walkers that are his main network of friends in the community. The park can be a place where some actual conversations can happen, even though most of the story won’t actually happen in the text, because my central character, Michael’s girlfriend Jen, won’t directly see any of the events that are driving the plot, just the effects of those events. But the park would be a great place for the events to reverberate around the community.

A chance comment by one of the regular dog walkers, a middle aged mother Wendy from British Columbia originally, also gave me another facet of Jennifer, the antagonist. She mentioned that she never lets her dog near the playground in a corner of the park shaded by a large copse of trees, and prefers to stay around the rarely used soccer field. The reason is not because she’s afraid her dog might hurt an overeager child; but she’s afraid of paranoid mothers who themselves are afraid of dogs near their children. After getting to know the rambunctious and placid dogs of this neighbourhood, the idea of someone being afraid of them was laughable. But that paranoia is a key part of her character, and her distrust of the dogs can be the major sign that Jen sees of the general hostility that consumes her over the course of the story.
For a book as mannered as In Search of Lost Time, every now and then I find some passage that is utterly out of place in its weirdness. The last hundred or so pages of this chapter of Volume Four, Sodom and Gomorrah, took place at this snooty dinner party hosted by an older woman who had shown up in Swann’s Way as the host of snooty dinner parties that weren’t quite so well-connected to the nobility as this current one.

On the way back to his hotel room after coming home from the party late at night, the following chapter opens with the page operating the lift ranting to him about his sister. The page’s sister is married to a rich man, and she continually demonstrates her newly elevated position in society by taking a dump in every carriage and hotel room she visits for the driver or the maid to clean up. And she blatantly gloats to her brother about her habit of leaving a “surprise” in dresser drawers of hotels and underneath carriage seats. Then the narrator leaves the elevator, and there’s a passage about the way sleep plays with memory.

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