Friday, November 18, 2011

Frank Norris and the Brute (part two)

In part one of my posting about Frank Norris, we looked at his masterwork, "McTeague". In this post, we shall lift up "Vandover and the Brute" an obvious inspiration behind my first novel, "The Missionary and the Brute".

In the last of Norris' novels (published posthumously), he revisits the idea of the duality of humankind. How we are often faced with conflicting impulses within ourselves. In many ways, this feels like an assured, and vastly different retelling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson opus, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". Unlike that work however, there is no John Utterson to represent us - the gentle reader - with a sense of normalcy and we are left with an unreliable, almost unlikeable protagonist, Vandover.

Surprisingly, it works.

We are expected to be disgusted and horrified by his actions - and we most certainly are.

The title character is a recent Harvard grad who despite his economic class travels the dark streets of San Francisco with two friends. They are slumming in the absolute worst way - partaking of drink and drugs and women of every ilk in the very worst parts of town. They have a sense of extreme entitlement that comes with genetic-determined class and easy money. But they squander it all away incrementally upon their descent. Vandover moreso than the others, gives in freely to the wolf that he sees within himself. His actions are execrable and his degeneration so extreme, that it is only at the very end that Norris gives us a literal bread-crumb of hope.

In "The Missionary and the Brute" we look at a similar human duality as it impacts our characters' choices. It would not be incorrect to refer to Jadwin Ross as being akin to Vandover in his actions - though not perhaps in the way you may be thinking. It is not a spoiler to tell you that pretty much any assumption you make from reading the book's marketing blurb - or even from your early readings of the chapters of the book - may be entirely incorrect.

Or not.

It's hard to say. I just know I worked very hard to keep the elements of the story flowing with surprises happening on every level. If you take nothing for granted and trust not the narrative point of view, you should be fine. For me, there is nothing more reliably interesting in fiction than an unreliable narrator.

That being said, there is certainly an element of the wolf at play within "The Missionary and the Brute". Dramatically and significantly so. Ahem, there is that figure of the lion on the cover, you know. But - as has been so appropriately stated by others, I run before my horse to market...

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