Roddy, 1965 Romance; 440 pages; Complete. Philadelphia, PA; Age: 12; Juvenilia; the onset of puberty; Narrative aspiring to sustained romance.

First page of Roddy. Mss_0006_01.

PDF of first section:    Large image

Spiral notebooks; Handwritten; Ballpoint pen; Excellent;

Prose; Love, family life, jealousy; Many tangled plots weave the story of Roddy, his friends, and their girlfriends, into triangles and events in this coming of age novel. Roddy, Laurie, George, Deona, MaryEllen and others.

The tall, looping title strides across the page and the uneven ballpoint, dark at the beginnings of the paragraphs and lighter as they progress, creates the regular texture of the somewhat mannered style. Here and there a word is inserted, a correction or modification, but as in the other novels of this prolific year, the texts are mainly written straight out, composed directly as they are recorded.

Related mss: The Arbor.

I continue to write and the prose comes steadily. Though I abandoned The Arbor, I have absorbed the fragment into Roddy, where it becomes a tale within the whole, the story of one female character’s past and explanation for her behavior in the story. I see narrative as causal, and the lives of the characters are directed by the combination of fate and forces at work in social relations. The plots and counterplots of Roddy weave across four complete notebooks, and I write because the interior life of imagination fills time and voids, because of my conviction that writing saves me in the moment and will provide escape from—what? my circumstances of being a child? alone? trapped in the family? without romance and intimate connection? All of these.

I ache for connection, and recognition. Writing serves as solace, but also, always, as a way to signal my own uniqueness. Interiority is a space cultivated with the hope and expectation of eventual discovery. Amy’s arrival into my life gives me a glimpse of possibility unprecedented in my childhood friendships. Roddy, though still cast as a story that is not about my experience, is written within the orbit of that developing relationship. By the time the novel is finished, I will be done with these narratives of fictional characters, and instead engaged in the complexities of my relationship with Amy and the challenge of how to write that as a textual exegesis and expression of obfuscated emotion.

Roddy is an epic. Four hundred and forty pages of intricate plotting and interactions among a group of characters whose lives intertwine. The three main characters are boys growing up in Liverpool (inspired by the Beatles). The soap opera tales are full of lurid pasts and lost parentage, disputes over loyalties in teen romance. Little really happens. Roddy and his best friends, Laurie and George, have no adventures, commit no crimes, suffer no punishments. The dynamic of interrelations, moods and struggles, drives the story. The writing is uneven, and shifts from schoolroom intrigues written in childish prose to anachronistic language structures borrowed from my readings of 19th century novels. Scenes of grief, death, or destined love, are composed with vivid metaphors. The story continuity is also inconsistent, and sometimes jumps and breaks. But the sheer persistence of the composition and its extension provides ample room for the characters to develop and relationships among them to take on many dimensions. Parents are present (the characters are in their early teens and live at home), and occasionally assert authority or power, but the principals in the novel act with considerable autonomy in their social sphere. Ill-fated, star-crossed love and romance as destiny are vividly present themes, along with the frequent construction of characters as having a “real” self that no one knows. The gender politics are rudimentary, and the story unfolds around the central male figure, Roddy.

As the novel progresses, it absorbs scenes that seep from the stories (or plots, as we call them) that Amy and I are beginning to develop, or hint towards. Also, popular song titles and lyrics find their place as signposts of emotional life gleaned from the broader culture. My language had become porous to those realms, as it had been to literary poetry and prose forms in the past. Writing was taking place as synthesis among these various contributing strains of language and tradition.

The year of writing Roddy is still a transition year. I have turned twelve, but Amy's world and mine have not imploded yet. The differences of age, two years, and schools, separates us in spite of experiences we shared in November 1964, which are the subject of their own manuscript and set the stage for what would unfold ahead.

Meanwhile, my sufferings are psychic, not material. I live in a decent house, my parents are engaged but not attentive, they know I am composing stories but they don't bother me about them. I have some space to think and my mother and I have an agreement that I can stay home "sick" occasionally because I use the time to read and write. I excel at school, and my grades never suffer, so she grants me the privilege of a certain amount of freedom to claim time for my self and my writing. I have to be ill, have dizziness, or a sore throat. But these are conditions readily managed. And I just sit on the couch, read Bullfinch's Mythology (whose small type and dense notes make me believe it may be the encylopedic key to everything), and write my stories wrapped in a blanket. She lets me be at home alone, as she is now working. She not only trusts me, but sympathesizes, knowing that I crave isolation, the sheer physical fact of it, and need those hours without the presence of any others. The writing is my focus, but also, the by-product of that isolation.

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