I’ve been thinking a lot about narrative urgency the last couple of weeks because I recently went to see Charles Baxter talk about and read from his new novel, The Soul Thief. (I dragged both Stella and Zoe out in the cold so I could get my literary fix.) He used the term narrative urgency, which makes sense because The Soul Thief is thick with it. I didn’t want to put the book down. He, quite simply, rocks.
Then I was reading Beth Kephart’s blog, and she posted about a similar thing: the use of present tense and the need for forward movement. Or rather, how you must be sure that you continue the forward momentum of your book or your writing will become precious. (She quoted McEwan.)
It makes me want to dive back into my memoir and make sure I maintain the sense of narrative urgency until the end of the book. I think I do, but I guess I’ll have to see. And if it lags in the middle, what does one do about it?
Am I obsessing about narrative urgency in my book because my life currently seems to lack narrative urgency? Because I am definitely challenged in that department.
I know what you’re thinking: Kate, be in the moment. Enjoy these precious times. (How many people have said that to me in the last week?)
I am enjoying many moments, every day. It seems I could stare at Zoe’s sleeping face for hours, counting her expressions, each of which she inhabits for mere seconds. I can’t get enough of her chubby face when it breaks into a smile. Seriously adorable. And I love to listen to Stella singing along to her princess movies when she doesn’t think I can hear her or when she tells me stories about how the Huns are coming and she has to protect her babies. (This is after she has carried all her stuffed animals and baby dolls downstairs and lined them up on the couch under blankets.) Zoe and I, sitting in the nursing chair will, sadly, always be killed by the Huns.
What I’m not enjoying is how tired I am. Or the way Zoe screams—she’s inconsolable sometimes—even when I’ve bounced her and turned on the water in the kitchen and nothing works and my knees ache and my quads are sore from all that bouncing and carrying on. I’m exhausted. It doesn’t help that D was gone again for 5 days. Single parenthood, frankly, sucks.
I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day as I walked Zoe around the neighborhood in an effort to get her to fall asleep. (It wasn’t working.) Zoe was screaming and I started to laugh. My friend said, “Oh good. You sound relaxed.”
I don’t know if “relaxed” is the word I’d choose. Unless relaxed is a state of mind one inhabits somewhere on the path from exhausted and comatose. No, it’s not relaxed. That’s not right. It’s more like just putting your head down and doing what you have do—picking up the Barbies and stuffed animals and trying not to snap at the sassy four-year-old you love as you coo and bounce the fussy baby you love. And then, as you’re doing what you have to do, the only thing left to do is to laugh because otherwise you feel crazy.