Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sorry, but I died.

You are aware, I think I can safely assume, that I am a great fan of Shirley Jackson. However, I'm afraid between the late Mrs. Jackson and the good people at Penguin, I'm in a bit of a bind. You understand, Jackson published six novels in her lifetime. Two of them are still in print, both of which I've read. Now. If we set aside what's out of print, that does leave one little stone left unturned without dipping into her non-fiction or short stories: Come Along With Me.

It's the novel Jackson was writing at the time of her death, and is currently collected along with some short stories and lectures in a volume published by Penguin of the same name. The problem is that I don't know where I stand on unfinished novels.

Certainly, their academic value is unquestionable. They serve as the best example of where a literary career might have gone if it continued, or as it faces down death. I don't know if I --as a fan, reader, and writer-- would want to dive into those waters. Of course, the state of the work is perhaps the greatest consideration.

With Jackson's Come Along With Me, it was something freshly started, a mere 30 pages of it exist (still a substantial amount considering the general length of her other work). However, In my crate of unread books, Henry James' The Ivory Tower awaits (weighing in at 348 pages), currently off-limits until I've read something James actually did finish. Which is worse? The one that takes only a lazy afternoon hour, or the one with the promise of a complete novel without the ability to deliver? Does it even matter? An incomplete novel is still an incomplete novel, after all. Though... Better to be kissed than left alone at climax.

Perhaps that's how it is then. As frustrating, or heartbreaking it may be, perhaps it's better an unfinished work be an infant than almost grown. If pages were pringles, and a novel were satisfaction, better to eat one and dream of the rest than indulge in almost enough. Both leave you disappointed, but at least you're spared the promises of closure.

I suppose then that the unfinished novel is worth one's time, assuming your passion for the writer is strong enough. It hardly seems worth it to read say Capote's Answered Prayers if you weren't struck by the rest of his ouvre. Something of that sort isn't going to change any opinions, although there is a certain allure to the unfinished novel. That it's somehow greater because it is incomplete. But I suppose that is just a bit of human nature. We can't help entertaining the idea that we just missed out on something. Who doesn't have an anecdote?

A formula. E=Enthusiasm on a scale of 1-1000. X=Page count of unfinished work. If E-X= Positive Value, Read. Or what you will.

Really. All of this could be avoided if you geniuses would have the good decency to stop dying.

No comments:

Post a Comment