Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Missionary Jadwin Ross

The first things most folks mention about Jadwin Ross is his unusual name. Which is curious because I don't think Ross is all that unusual.

Okay, Jadwin is indeed a little beyond the norm.

The simple story is that this - like the philosophical theme of "The Missionary and the Brute" - the name was cribbed from a Frank Norris work. This time it is taken from the protagonist of "The Pit" - Curtis Jadwin. To me, it felt like it could make a good first name. For his surname, I borrowed from another literary antecedent, James Arnold Ross from "Oil!" by Upton Sinclair (the literary inspiration behind the brilliant - though wildly different film "There Will Be Blood".) Two worthy predecessors at that.

We don't really know where he got that name. In fact, we don't know much concrete about him at all. One of my intents of writing the book in this particular manner was that I didn't want to engage in any flashbacks that offered up blithe, clean motivation or backstory at all. I wanted to write the novel so that it lived as most of us do - in the eternal present. Almost the entirety of the action covers a three or four day span in Africa. We do learn a little bit about some characters' histories as needed, but only as would normally come about in natural conversation or because events dictate so.

For Jadwin, not so much.

Which is not to say that he does not have a history. He does. We just don't ever really get to know it. It is simply not important to the story at hand. I didn't want this to become one of those stories where we see some past trauma driving present actions oir to feel we had to search that for clues. Plenty of action, trauma and clues in the events as they unfold. 

Jadwin, from what we do find out about his present situation - is a missionary. He is in a jail cell trying to piece together what happened to put him there. None of it makes sense to him or us at first. His memory has been beaten from him and he struggles to recall even the smallest details initially, but slowly circumstances force him to recall with excruciating detail every moment that put him there. I wanted the reader to share that same discovery process - to be surprised, shocked, appalled right along with Jadwin. That required a carefully controlled Point of View.

The hard thing to do with a character as complex as Jadwin Ross is not to make him too sympathetic nor too vile. Either would tip the hand way too early as to who or what he is. Being an unabashedly post-modern thoroughly transgressive novel - it was beholden upon me to try to make him real without becoming a stereotype.

This isn't the kind of book where the reader will ultimately 'love' any individual character. They will hopefully like a few - understand a few - be horrified by some - and perhaps even be uplifted by others. Aesthetic distance is essential in the appreciation. But may need to be garnered over time. From my readings, I understand that we are conditioned to want happy endings, redemptive scenes, and characters.

This is not that kind of book. If it is done well, and I hope that I have come close to that - it will challenge the reader at every level - and that begins with our evolving thoughts about the Missionary Jadwin Ross.

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