Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Unfinished novels

As we prepared to leave university, a lecturer asked what our career plans were. I said I was going to be a novelist. "Oh, you write novels?". Well, no, I had to admit, I was keener on the being-a-novelist thing that the writing-novels thing. I had accumulated a small stack of attempts to start one, which I recently found filed away, and place here for your amusement.

Literary illusions, Chapter 1: Straight from the Muse's mouth

Don't be fooled. The Dedication in the book does not Make It All Worthwhile. It makes it worse, really, after all those months living with his work, and then just one sentence with you in it. The rest is I, I, I, and seemed self-indulgent when you first saw it, and now is an unreadable mixture of disloyally-revealing and lies. And as a sop to his conscience, he dedicates it to you. Yeah, ta. Thank God no-one ever notices and blames you for the contents.

Sometimes he's withdrawn and solemn. It's not often a creative trance, though - that might at least have been some excuse. If you knew, if you really knew, he's probably either daydreaming about the day he wins the Booker prize, or else chafing at the unaccountable success of a rival.


The Breakdown Zone, Chapter 1

Los Angeles sits in the haze of the Pacific coast, steaming in the endless summer of California, the state where the sun always shines, as they said in the 20s. But now it sprawls out, a hundred square miles of freeways, service stations, parking lots, and screaming fading billboards. This, as much as Detroit, is Motor City, where the car rules supreme. The characteristic smog is thick with the stink of exhaust, and the crumbling housing estates, all so alike, are desolate islands to those without wheels.

Forced back on themselves, the inhabitants, now mostly poor, uneducated and black, fill their jobless days with an intricate knowledge of the maze of dead-end alleys and empty demolition sites that are their walking grounds. Not only theirs by default, because noone else wants it, but theirs by right of arms - it used to be flick knives and chains, but now, like all freedom-loving Americans, they have arsenals of M1 rifles, shotguns, and heaps of hand-guns. Even the tooled-up police have renounced their dominion on the Territories, so gang kills gang undisturbed, the cops relegated to spectators and corpse-counters.

This is the secret city, the grimy ragged mess that sprawls like a bloated, wrinkled sunbather beneath the chic veneer of the Hollywood bikini. The Boulevard youths are a world away from their models- they dress for style, all in a Beach Boy party that goes on until the WASP enfants terribles fade into account executives, PR men and all the other high-pay occupations that finance their small-scale dream house lives. Hollywood, its larger-than-life nameplate peeling in the sun, smirks down from the tropically-lush hills, a shining forbidden city where dreams are knocked together by the sunglassed visionaries, and where even the air costs money.

Los Angeles, the city of angels, tanned, blonde, always just seventeen, has had its share of sunshine now, and the fretful balance has finally cracked irrevocably: either the glass-and-concrete towers will boil in a crackling furnace of savage noon, or the night will come at last, with all the hidden warriors creeping out from their forgotten pasteboard caves, guns in hand, to take vengeance on the city that ignored them, fired with the bitter wrath of those shown a dream and then denied it. This is as far as America can get: the car-ruled coast. If that falls apart, all you can do is tear it all down and start again. And the people on the top, the penthouse dwellers, the rooftop-garden idlers, will go down too, crushed among the rubble, or hiding in furtive cellars, while the new masters walk proudly abroad, the mad lust for destruction in their eyes- for they have seen the good life, and prefer the blessed-out nightmare world of drugged trips and dark adventures to the patio'n'pool long afternoon siesta.

It's a hard city to know, stretching as it does for seemingly endless miles past dilapidated blocks, each housing some unknown world, and alien sky filled with hidden loyalties and blatant treacheries. No scientist could get to the truth: it is too various, too strange. But some can pick up on the atmosphere, feel the acid wounds rotting underneath the ugly but healthy scar tissue, smell the future inferno in the rancid grease and Coke-and-coke fizz, see the blood-happy vultures circling in the clear blue sky above the ridges. Those that came and saw this were few, but they, alone, were not surprised when the great crash came, not from some underground geological Act of God, but from the city itself, killed off by her bastard sons.


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