Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Tape Recorder and the Memory Problem

Play. Rewind. Stop. Eject.

Here and there, barely noticeable at first, these words punctuate the text of my novel Apart from Love. Why? Let me give you a glimpse, a brief insight into the unique ideas behind writing this novel:

In most stories, the author knows it all. She hovers from above, seeing through the guts, hearts and minds of all her characters. So all you have to do is look up at her, and their motives will be reflected back to you. Not so here. I like the directness of first-person narrative, so the story is told in two voices: that of Ben, a twenty seven years old dropout student, and that of Anita, a twenty six years old girl, married to his father. They take turns telling their most intimate thoughts, directly to you. Well, not to you: to a tape recorder.

Why did I introduce the tape recorder? The simple answer is that it is a device that stands for the listener. It lets me take myself as the author entirely out of the picture. I am not there telling you the plot--Ben and Anita are. He interpret events in his own way, through the lens of his particular family history, and his understanding is flawed and biased, and changes along the arc of the story. By the same token, so does she. You get two versions of the events, but the truth lies in the gap between them. You become the one hovering from above, hoping that somehow they can close that gap, somehow the two viewpoints can become one.

But there is a more complex, and more subtle answer. The tape recorder also stands for the memory problem in this book. It becomes a metaphor for fighting forgetfulness. With Ben's mom languishing in a home for Alzheimer's patients, his father becomes obsessed with 'capturing moments', preserving the present so you can recall it one day, and not letting the past slip through your memory.

Thus the commands Play, Rewind, Stop, and Eject become, eventually, overloaded with meanings: Rewind becomes "Look back, find that event in the past, remember it." Play means "Stay here in the moment, talk about it with all your senses fully aware of how it feels." Stop means "Consider another direction." and Eject means "Time to go."


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4 comments:

  1. I remember that from the book. And the connection with memory is beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very Interesting. Perspectives put in place in time & space.

    ReplyDelete