After a month's work on the book announced in my previous post, I've written my way through two distinct conceptions before finally arriving at a third that's good enough to take all the way to completion. First, I began the book as the digressive travel narrative vaguely outlined in the post below, but after about 25 pages it became a creature of tangents without a center. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is in this case. I was trying to put everything into the book and succeeded only in drowning the narrative in details and digressions, factual and fictional. So I started over, this time writing a more narrowly focused nonfiction travel book, less Sebald and more Paul Theroux. But it wasn't long before this book went completely, manically fictional in a gonzo Hunter Thompson kind of way. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but not the book I want to write at this time. The swerve toward fiction in this (and the first) false starts, however, showed me what this book really wants to be: a novel. And that's what it is now. The third conception, of which I am now on page 40 of the rough draft (written in my nearly microscopic, often illegible hand on that quasi-Luddite cliche of cliches, the yellow legal pad), is the story of a man named Steiner, a chemical engineer working for an oil company in the Midwest, who, nine months after the deaths of his wife and twin daughters in a car crash, takes a trip into the west for reasons he does not completely understand. The novel is about what happens to Steiner after the Tragedy (as he thinks of it), after his personal and professional lives suddenly crash down around him. I'm giving him my route and many of my experiences--Steinerized, seen from the perspective of a smart, shy, geeky, middle-aged engineer who is suffering intensely and who is also that rare thing in literature, a genuinely and complexly good man.
That's where the thing stands today. And that's probably all I'll be saying about it until the rough draft is completed. My new working title: Steiner's Journey.