05 November 2007

Unlikely inspiration at work

Here's a book I came across today that takes the writing dictum "write what you know" to a whole new level. A substitute teacher collects hundreds and hundreds of notes students in her classes are passing, which according to policy she has to confiscate. Having collected them all, she sends them to artists to create art inspired by the notes. That's the premise of DEAR NEW GIRL OR WHATEVER YOUR NAME IS, a short collection that came out a few years ago from the House that Eggers Built, McSweeney's. I found out about it from a blog called Writers Read which asks published authors (including Trinie Dalton, the substitute teacher and co-editor of the book) what they are enjoying.

While DEAR NEW GIRL... technically isn't a narrative, from what I understand, it made me think of the interesting ways narrative can be used in books. I think the first book that made me aware of form properly was the YA "documentary novel" NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH by Avi, which includes phone conversations and scripted-out scenes to tell its story of a high school student in trouble. Novelists in the 19th century used lots of letters; nowadays, we could get a novel of instant messages (and I have a feeling one might exist, and it might not be bad!) Jeremy Blachman's book ANONYMOUS LAWYER lets its eponymous protagonist unburden himself through his blog, which eventually gains its own agency in the plot. One of my favorite short stories, Rick Moody's "Wilkie Ridgeway Fahnstock: The Box Set," is structured as a series of liner notes to a collection which functions as the biography of a quasi-failure through the music he liked.

But the novel I'd really like to see? One in which the entire narrative takes place through company e-mails--the treachery of the CC function, the banality of the company-wide missive, the accidental addressee. Someday in the future, when we're automatically inputting our wishes to each others' brains, we will forget how funny corporatespeak is. All you have to do is give your protagonist an e-mail account, for starters.

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