The Unbinding (Read it)

There, I've plugged my new novel on Slate.Com, just as Andrew asked me to as part of the successful charm offensive that convinced me to do something -- help fill in for him -- that I swore I'd never do again when I dropped exhausted into bed after trying it the first time late last summer. But I have "product" now, as they say in Hollywood, and because my product is on the Web, just a click away from Andrew's product, here I am. With my long, un-Webbish sentences, my inability to put up links and my lack of interest (based on inability) in delivering little excerpts from outside articles. These flaws and incompetencies were pointed out to me -- massively, repeatedly, acidically-- during my last stop here. Get connected, lazybones.

The Unbinding is my attempt to do that. It's a novel that's not just being published on the Web, it's being written there. The whole idea seemed gimmicky at first (oh no, not hypertext; not pictures; not tricky sounds) but now I'm realizing that it's not at all. It represents a return to fundamentals. Much as blogging is returning journalism to its arresting, imperfect, assertive origins, spinning a tale before one knows the ending, and doing so without the opportunity to double back and fiddle with the beginning, is storytelling in its wild, natural state. (Although The Unbinding has an expert editor, Meghan O' Rourke, who trained at the New Yorker.) Next time you make up a children's bedtime story, you'll see exactly what I mean. The only direction is onward. Trust in inspiration, not second thoughts. In foresight, not hindsight. In spells, not science. And glance around the bedroom for ideas. That painting of a sailing ship? It's time to send one of your characters to sea, perhaps. That other painting of an idyllic farm? That's what your character dreams of once he's shipwrecked on the barren Pacific island.

Recommended Reading

But long stories in prose have become confused with books, which is like confusing music with CDs or art with galleries. Books are merely shipping containers for stories. Unfortunately, the stories designed to fit in books are becoming, it seems to me, more and more like iceberg lettuce -- genetically manipulated to travel well and not to rot, turn colors or change in taste (which motivates growers to first remove their taste) during the roughly year-long interval between being finished and landing in the store. To switch images, such stories are studio albums, not concert recordings. Poses, not performances.

I sound like a Beat poet. "That's typing, not writing," Capote said of Kerouac's On the Road, which fiction's great jazz man, lacking a computer, poured out onto a scroll of teletype paper (after having meditated on it for ages). Well, whatever it was, at least his masterpiece wasn't Breakfast at Tiffanys -- a vaccum-packed little preservative-sprayed nodule of absolute elegance and pert inertia. Capote's book became a movie, which kept it in print and spread its name. Kerouac's book has never spawned a movie, and it goes on selling (wildly, unstoppably, to people who want to read it, not just own it) despite the fact. Because On the Road was a movie in the first place. A movie which swept up the present as it traveled and yet, paradoxically, still lives. All that's left of Capote is Phillip Seymour-Hoffman.

And though On the Road's maker was a famed outsider, he knew how to plug himself by appearing on programs such The Steve Allen Show (possibly while drunk or high) and inviting viewers to join the trip, man. Kerouac was a loner in lots of way, but one who believed in picking up hitch-hikers.