It was during a discussion about our top ten favorite musical performers—a merry debate Jay and I had wormed our way through numerous times—that I outlined my criteria for great art and great heroes: they must be flawed, I declared. I trod carefully, seeing the mischievous glint in my friend’s eye and knowing him as one who once delighted in finding flaws—flaws in my reasoning, that is; my faulty logic. Time has softened his position. Now aesthetics share space with his offbeat moral codes, Jay’s demand that people have courage, be self-sacrificing, even if otherwise behaving sinisterly.
As a result, Jay had issues with Chris Leavitt, my distracted protagonist of Crystal From The Hills, and redemptive support-player in its follow-up, The Situation. Jay was gingerly in his criticism: caretaking, self-deprecating (“…maybe it’s me”), yet quietly scathing. Among other things, Chris acts in ways that would not endear him to many readers. He behaves fecklessly, avoiding problems, especially this strange accident with a truck, his friend Bryan “Weed” Tecco, a lagoon in West Marin County, and some malevolent followers, possibly real, likely not, who are dubbed “Shadows” by the psychosis-sharing axis that is Chris and Weed. Over the following week, Chris retreats into the gritty streets of Oakland—a privileged, ill-fitting white male losing himself—rather than following a responsible, much less logical path. Over the course of CFTH, the reader is called to dally alongside Chris, enduring anomalous altercations with other lost, disturbed figures; surviving a more purposeful assault from local gangstas seeking Chris’ absent friend and their rival. Chris unknowingly emulates Weed, seeking to disappear, meanwhile hoping to grow down and not up; to lie about his age, not be responsible—to not be a hero, or even an adult.
Unacceptable. This is my guy, my hero, but more importantly, the carrier of secrets, pain, as well as the corruption of hierarchical systems, including families. What a burden. In order to understand, if not like him, the reader gets Chris’ back-story: the explanation as to why he is the way he is. Good enough? His near-salvation is his adjustment to reality, which happens slowly, serendipitously, and usually in spite of others’ strenuous efforts to help. There: a therapist’s idea of a happy ending. The efforts of Chris’ women seem particularly off the mark. His girlfriend, Jill, rather like his bossy Aunt Jenny, think haranguing Chris will lead to change. It doesn’t. Like many who are depressed, or addicted, or delusional, or all three, Chris avoids the messengers of prosaic yet worthwhile truths, instead preferring fantasies, the habit of meandering in between models of authority and mirrors of failure. In his mind, Chris half-listens to voices of reason, the present-day life-like figures, while ever keeping private counsel with the absent or illusory: his friend Weed, his hapless, deceased father; an elusive, affection-withholding mother; his “Shadows”. If characters like Jill, Weed, or the affable Sweet are in any way stand-ins for the departed or the ephemeral, it’s not clear. But it’s not implausible.
The flaws of my bi-novel narrative are surely plentiful, especially the flaws apparent through plain analysis of events: the point of view of reliable, rational human beings who behave logically, live consistently, and seem to know themselves. Damn you all. Regarding the accident that begins both novels, the even-tempered reader might wonder: is it realistic that Chris and Weed, separated due to the apparent sinking of a truck in shallow lagoon, would not find each other upon surviving and reaching the surface? Is the reader meant to believe that Weed’s fear of corporate followers, or Chris’ belief that a drowning Weed is beyond saving, would lead either of them to bypass the involvement of authorities? Would the reader further believe that such a traumatized figure as Chris would simply drift into homelessness, rather than return home, report the accident, the disappearance of Weed, and then resume work, relationships, and the general momentum of life?
Regarding the novels’ most prominent female character, would readers believe that the capable, head-strong, seemingly career-focused Jill would be in relationship with a character like Chris; would tolerate his immaturity, be anything beyond seduced by his dimpled face, lean body and puckish blue eyes; or that she’d be living in a derelict apartment in West Oakland, as opposed to one of its latter-day gentrified properties on Martin Luther King Street. As for Weed: having learned, albeit second-hand in CFTH, of his lechery, self-serving, and calculating nature, would the reader accept that he’d entrust the flash drives for an important and subversive video game (entitled ‘The Situation’) to Chris, who among other things, is known for losing belongings, especially electronic items like cell phones? And what of Weed’s penchant for procrastination: his three or four day break in Bolinas, wasting time with the elegiac Rosco, before resuming his cause? If he’d thought Chris alive and well, would he not concern himself with his stash, be chomping at the bit to get back and move on? What I’d hoped is that Weed’s latent heroism would vie with his dilatory, ambivalent nature, but ultimately yield a picaresque journey. That journey evolves like man: on foot, to car, ferry, and train. As a result, Weed belies his reputation as a mindless slob and criminal and gives meaning to that once inexplicable chase along a West Marin highway.
Love these flaws, hate them, or ignore them. Whatever you choose. Ignore CFTH. Ignore The Situation. Actually, I find it curious, this assignment of logic, or even consistency, to the constructs of character and drama. It’s as if readers think they know why people are the way they are. Jay does, and I know I do.