Tag Archives: surrealist literature

The old scripts of Daniel Pierce

 

“We met on consecutive days, Aaron and me. I detailed events, spilling out everything I could think of, remember, while he filtered the present through the past. Did I mention that my mom left my dad when I was thirteen because she found out he wasn’t a prairie vole? Didn’t I? Well, Aaron did. He does that: remembers things like a bucket sat beneath my mind”

—a passage from Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole, about an exchange between a protagonist and his confidante therapist.

Self identities—strategies of being in relationship—are often fixed and rigid. Quantum phenomena collapses time.

Daniel Pierce is a psychologist burdened by a question of ethics. A man in his practice—a man whom Pierce has seen once in a professional capacity—has possibly committed a horrible crime against a child. Or, the man is the subject of a cynical fabrication designed to leverage a judgment in a custody battle. Through serendipity, Pierce re-connects with this man, though not in the course of his day-to-day work, but rather, ironically, in the midst of his own troubles. They meet in a halfway house, as peers in addiction and mental illness, and through that meeting, Pierce hears a fuller yet still uncertain story.

In being a listener, a helper, Pierce filters what he hears though his own prejudices and back-story, as we all do. Along the way, he is influenced by a reformed prostitute, and now strident advocate of abused women and children. What is Daniel Pierce’s old script? He was a lonely kid, separated by strangeness, a habit of talking, sometimes singing to himself. Today he might have been diagnosed with ADHD, or tagged as being on the continuum of autistic disorders. His mother, now languishing with Alzheimer’s, once doted upon Daniel, admiring his childlike charm, the ‘twinkle’ in his eye that few others saw. She perhaps coddled him. Daniel’s present-day forgetfulness is half an organic condition suggestive of alcoholism, and half an implicit bond with this now absent figure.

Daniel’s father manifests the Oedipal failure: a man disgraced by his infidelities, he epitomizes the fallen, weak male reviled by the likes of Lira, Daniel’s antagonist and misandrist pursuer. Daniel had stayed closer to his now late father over time—physically, at least. Though his father’s caretaker in his final years, Daniel had always been different: most notably, a monogamist to his recently deceased wife, another doting figure. Unlike his father, he is a Prairie Vole: respectfully distant from other women. Still, his aloneness is a cost, leading him to practice dubious boundaries, as a therapist and as a storyteller. His crossing-the-fourth-wall sidebars (an example above), are intended to convey his isolation, his need to be understood. The story of Venus is based loosely on real events concerning child abuse, the knotty issue of child custody warfare; of mandated reporting requirements for psychotherapists; of confidentiality. Try to understand. Before you need someone someday to listen before blowing whistles, try to understand.

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

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Accidents

 

My twin novels, good friends Crystal From The Hills and The Situation (published 6/29) both begin with accidents—the same accident, but with different conclusions, different, uh, opinions as to what really happened on a last Wednesday in March. Someone died, says book number one, CFTH. Someone’s still alive, says the spoiling follow-up, bringing hope, or denial. Distortions. It’s a problem when two people experience the same event but come away with different ideas, different memories. What really happened? What really happens in drug treatment? In yet another book I claim to know the answer to that question. Who’s in charge? Who gets to decide the truth, the way things ought to be?

Accidents. They’re all accidents, the things that happen in life. They have to be, for to insist otherwise is to say that things are consciously determined: mapped out, overseen, foreseen, and taken care of. Are we being taken care of? When accidents happen, someone is meant to step in and mollify bad feelings, guilt and inadequacy—things we download somewhere between 2 and 5. Someone’s meant to step in and say everything’s okay when we break things or fall down. But what if they don’t? What if those grown ups are gone, or just preoccupied; depressed? We forget the early stuff, the wrongdoings of our bodies, the pre-sexual mistakes of bad touch, upsets in the crib; inexplicable, cosmic aloneness. Do we really want to grow up? Some, like my characters, don’t so they keep having accidents—violent, sexual, toilet-centered, water-based accidents—things that keep us young, hoping to be picked up and rubbed until feeling better. One protagonist’s parents gave him up early, passed him off to another couple, one that tried and still tries to love. The other one’s parents stuck around, but clearly had other things to do, and perhaps should have given him up, broken up with him like women tend to; let bossy yet formidable aunts take over; just disappear, maybe.

Give the kids a break. When they’re men, let them grow down and not up, just a little. “Gimme time,” says Chris Leavitt in hapless climax. It happens too fast, this life of responsibility and mission: like this opportunity that fell upon the lap of Bryan “Weed” Tecco at some point before the text of either novel. The flash drives, plural of drive, drove him to steal, and then head out on a doom-laden drive. Weed had a vision, just like Chris Leavitt, his friend, has visions, and the vision informed Weed that the video game he was expertly testing, “The Situation”, contained elements he recognized: these “Shadows” that the likes of he and Chris see on a regular basis, pointing out truths that no one is willing or able to speak of: about wrongdoings, what’s happening in the world; what ought to happen. Weed has a problem, a God-like problem. He foresees that fallout, the events that will unfold, subverting all that should happen. The problems start when Weed starts to plan: to steal the plans for “The Situation”; to lead his corporate security followers on a chase; to take his friend Chris with him for back up, as if that were something he needed. Maybe human beings should never try to plan things. You see, we don’t it well: planning. All things are just accidents…horrible, wonderful accidents.

 

 

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Crystal Surreal

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As my next novel, The Situation, becomes available today, I step back two years to reflect upon its predecessor, my much maligned Crystal From The Hills. You don’t have to read CFTH to get The Situation. It’s easy enough to follow the action, infer the major events of the previous novel, if not its subtext, and get involved in its story. What you might miss is the contrast between friends pictured above–the paths defined by different needs for both characters and readers: for mere consciousness on the one hand, for heroism on the other–for empathy above all. Who are you? Where are you in your life, and what do you want from drama? Here’s a few thoughts from November 12′:

I’m not sure what an example of surreal fiction is. When I think of surrealism, I think of painters like Salvador Dali, or filmmakers like Jean Cocteau, or Luis Bunuel. I’m told Jacques Lacan is the man for those following the unconscious. Not sure that’s true. The author Polizzoti writes that Freud and the surrealists were nonplussed by one another, especially Andre Breton, who reportedly met the Viennese physician and was underwhelmed. These writers were poets, stylists of the 20s and 30s, contemporaries of the absurdist Dada movement, and men who reported interest in the unconscious, and went about the task of creating images that simulated dreams. For what it’s worth, I’ve tried a modest and similar tact with Crystal From The Hills, having read some of Lacan and Breton, and then staring at that remarkable painting by Magritte: the one that frame a woman’s naked body within the contours of a feminine hairline. ‘Le Viol’ it’s called: the rape. Simplicity and genius. And horror.

Mine is a story that begins dreamily on the streets of Oakland, with an ambiguously aged man holding a sign that reads, “Hungry White Trash” as he panhandles by the side of a freeway. You might get the idea that it’s a joke, but not entirely. In fact, there’s a history to the joke, and horror: a serious underpinning. Chris Leavitt has suffered an accident. That’s the pitch, the beginning of the story and the forerunner to a back-story. There will be a few accidents depicted if you read on, as well as deliberate action, malevolent and kind. There is no hero per se (heroism comes later), just a hapless everyman riding a string of bad luck, making several wrong decisions, struggling to act like an adult. He’s playing with life. He has a girlfriend, sort of. It’s Jill Evans, ten years before her stints playing support character in Living Without Blood, and almost twelve years before she takes the lead in The Big No, my second novel. Jill gets around, and here she goes back in time, getting younger, lucky girl. I have a villain of sorts, a guy who’s not around, but who gets talked about a lot. He’s Weed, a drug dealer, video game star, con artist—a bad, absent, abandoning guy. His influence is balanced by Sweet, Chris’ other friend, who is even more childlike than Chris, yet affable and easy to have around. He sticks around. There’s an aged yet autocratic aunt—Chris’ only surviving relative, an endearingly caustic woman. Others in the story are lawyers, doctors, police, employers, street thugs, ghostly figures (dubbed “Shadows”) that hang around with hallucinatory menace: not all bad people; just people with seeming power and a willingness to use it.

            CFTH is a story that concerns itself with many ideas. It relies on continuity and the experience of ideas, fragments that have been indicated previously in the text. If you read a few pages then put it down for three weeks, then I’m sorry if I bored you. If that’s not the case and you’re just dilatory in your reading habits, then I’m afraid you may miss out. A good read is like good therapy. You don’t go once a month, like it’s a check up. You’re supposed to remember bits and pieces, like it’s embedded in your experience, and just know where you left off—no bookmarks are necessary if it works. There are associations to be made along the way. Don’t look for patterns, just experience the sense of revisiting as you note terms, phrases that appear to get repeated in the novel; themes that seem to link to one another. This is a story about accidents; personal, physical, even sexual, and habitual. It’s a story about rejection: also personal, and also institutional. There is trauma involved, and the problems related to poor memory and dissociation. You might feel what my characters don’t: that’s the point. Chris doesn’t remember much in the beginning, but builds his story along the way, and tells others, and you, what’s happening in his own time, on his own terms. His friend Sweet has an even worse memory than he does, but low and behold, it is he that becomes the chronicler of events in the end; the witness. Trauma victims need witnesses. That’s written somewhere. Above all there is a problem with reality, regressions in time, age. Characters aren’t sure what’s happening. They lack real perspectives, real goals. They don’t even use their real names. Despite all this, CFTH is actually not a confusing novel, in my opinion—not if you’re present, that is. It’s not all in Chris’ mind: things actually happen.

            Bad things happen. Evil lurks, as in any good action movie or pulp mystery novel. Darth Vader types hover, and towering infernos exist. Read the novel some of these cheeky references will make sense. Meanwhile, like the “Shadows” of Chris’ imagination or psychosis, the author and reader are witnesses to all that goes down. CFTH is a novel that may move you, or it may leave you cold, or I suppose—just to cover all bases—it may leave you feeling something (?) in between.

 

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