u_topn picture
rub_dc picture
Atlantic Unbound Sidebar

From Twilight, A Symphony (Eastgate Systems, 1996)
by Michael Joyce

As in most stories a lot has happened before you got here. And, as was always true but is increasingly true in stories like this, a good deal more will happen now that you are here. Here's what I know so far.

twilight1 picture

The stories, insofar as there are stories here, move in two central arcs, east toward life (though in the past) and west toward death (though in the future). Above these is something like dream or mind, a set of sometimes fragmentary, sometimes speculative linkages (with their own arcs). Below, in something approximating the present moment of the shifting text, is the beginning of a story. This story begins toward its end, yet well after the end of one of the histories (Pleasant Lake) and a bit beyond the end of the song sequence (which takes place on the shores of another lake, Superior, in a small Canadian town called Marathon).

In that eastward story, a man named Hugh, following the death of his mother, childnaps his infant son from his estranged wife leaving behind a Cabbage Patch doll for their older daughter (foolishly intending this as a gift, not in any sense a replacement, a victim of a media age and his own arrogance). This act leads to enormous publicity surrounding the (in the early 80's then novel) childnapping. Fearing discovery and apprehension, the man flees to his brother's remote cottage on Pleasant Lake in New York where he meets a recent emigre from Poland, a poet and former Solidarity activist now working as a porn-shop clerk in near indenture to his American sponsors, whose shack of a "cottage" he occupies with his former-lawyer wife, Magdalena, and their son.

In the westward story, nearly a decade later the same man has been contacted by Magdalena whom he claims not to have seen in the intervening years and whose link to him is a single word. Suffering from a rare cancer which infects the blood, she begs his help. He accompanies her on a fruitless quest around the shore of Lake Superior and across Ontario toward Hibbing, Minnesota where she hopes to enlist the aid of the "Twilight Doctor," an increasingly notorious small town doctor committed to assisting dying patients who wish to commit suicide. As they begin their quest neither know that the Twilight Doctor is himself heading east toward a conference in Montreal (ironically booked as a passenger on a lake freighter which passes them as they sit by the frigid shore near Sault Saint Marie). When they discover this Hugh agrees to help Magdalena end her own life.

The beginning of the story in the present moment finds these two talking, rather operatically (or perhaps in the way of a Socratic dialogue), on a screen porch in Spring. Magdalena may be in remission or simply very near death and silver with pain. They are listening to one of Glenn Gould's two recordings of the Goldberg Variations, recordings which link them in interesting ways. (Magdalena was born in June,1955, the month and year of the first recording; they met at Pleasant Lake in the summer of 1981, just after Gould recorded the variations again in the same studio on East 30th Street in New York City.)

Where you begin among these stories will depend to a certain extent upon chance, since the text chooses different starting points following this screen.

There are other linkages, other stories, histories and dreams here.
Some remain for you to make. There is no simple way to say this, though I have tried for years to do so. I still miss my mother (and my father) and still feel the loss of love and family. To say that I look forward to my own death is not a statement of longing or melancholy as much as a description of irises.

twilight2 picture

"Perhaps the city of text will be consciously unfinished, fragmentary, open...unfinished in the way that death unfinishes us all."

Back to Atlantic Unbound's Digital Culture: November 1996

Back to The End of the Story: An E-mail Exchange With Michael Joyce

Copyright © 1996 by Michael Joyce. All rights reserved. Published by Eastgate Systems. Used by permission.
Cover Atlantic Unbound The Atlantic Monthly Post & Riposte Atlantic Store Search