“(…)” by James Tadd Adcox

(Clearly one could take any story more or less at random and put it in parentheses, in which case the parentheses would serve as decoration, distraction, childishness, a ‘cheap trick.’ If there were a basis for a story told in parenthesis, it would involve [naturally enough] finding the connections between form and meaning. The first question, then, would be: what is the meaning of the parenthesis?) (But: the challenge of writing a story in parentheses is exactly that the meaning of parentheses is so clear, so obvious—the default story for all parentheses would be something like a series of secrets. And because how one would use parentheses in such a hypothetical story is [or seems] so obvious, that itself, the obviousness, becomes the challenge of said [hypothetical] story [speaking, of course, of the challenge to the writer; as for the challenge to the reader—well, should readers be challenged? Or is it that the best stories are clear, easy to follow, respectful of the reader’s busy schedule, of the fact that s/he, most likely, is reading this on the train, in which case there are so many distractions—yelling babies, yelling teenagers, yelling old men and woman, cell phones going off, advertisements yelling from every wall and even the windows, the conductor yelling out the side of the train for people to hurry their boarding and deboarding—or else s/he, the reader, is reading between appointments, in some small slice of his/er increasingly smaller spare time: his/er mind liable to wander, anxieties loitering like predatory hoodlums somewhere just off the page, waiting to shoulder their way into consciousness as soon as his/er attention is thrown by so much as a misplaced comma, much less all these parentheses…]) (The good version of said [hypothetical] story would need to be a story in which the writer recognized the childishness, the obviousness of the form, but, by recognizing it, went somewhere further with it.) (One response, of course, would be the Barthian move, to write a story more or less like the thing that I am writing now, a story in which the conflict that is foregrounded is precisely the difficultly of the form, the questions attached to the form, questions of why, for that matter, one would take on such a form.) (‘Why not just a straight story?’ etc) (Certainly this said [hypothetical] parentheses story is not the sort of thing that I’ve been working on recently.) (If it were, there would be the sudden introduction, right around here, of some sort of outside knowledge, something that would attempt to break through the prose, to, as it were, break through or simply break the story itself, but which eventually becomes the prose, becomes the story.) (A terrifying drone or the sound of a voice distorted through a loudspeaker.) (Parentheses themselves are a fiction. They mark what is supposedly not-there in a text, what is thought but not said. They are a ghost within the text [a ghost being that which announces its own absence]) (A story written in all parenthesis would therefore be a ghost story.) (This is my third winter in Chicago. It’s not the cold that bothers me, it’s the dark. Chicago in winter is the darkest city I’ve ever lived in.) (Considering said [hypothetical] story: but what story am I telling?) (The story perhaps of the simple effort to build things in such a way that they last, to take the stuff that breaks so often, the stuff whose natural state or essence is a constant-breaking-downness—and by stuff here we may as well admit we mean everything; to take this always-already-breaking stuff and put it together into something that might last, of course this is a delusion, but even if it lasts longer than the bare moment of its creation, it has already outlasted what we have come to expect from life, each moment dying at each moment, and gone.) (Or:) (Or else I am telling the story of this winter in Chicago, where everyone keeps telling me that winter has just begun.) (Each parenthesis must prompt itself, must in some sense call itself into being.) (When I was younger I wanted to write about myself, my heroes were Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, both unquestionably authors designed—designed?—to appeal to a certain type of young male readership, authors whose works conferred a sort of masculinity on the, as it seemed to me, very unmasculine act of reading.) (In the best version of this story, the original conflict—between the writer and the form of the story itself—would give way to something else, some other meaning would slip in, mirroring the parenthesis itself, which slips in between the text, pointing to itself as something by nature unnoticed, absent.) (scene: the Garfield Park Conservatory, winter, almost evening. The dark comes early during winter in Chicago—it is near the break in timezones, and so, in the shortest days of winter, dark comes as soon as three-thirty. A man sits on a bench in the “showhouse” section of the conservatory, typing on a laptop. He is at an age where he is no longer sure whether to think of himself as a “young man”—this phrase is the first thing he thinks of when describing himself, but it is beginning to seem wrong. It is the third winter he has lived in Chicago, and he takes some pride in his ability to get through it, in the strategies he has learned. He is pleased that he hasn’t yelled at anyone this winter, he hasn’t called anyone in the middle of the night to alternately cry and make demands, he hasn’t been drinking especially heavily, and so on. He goes to the gym. He coats himself in SPF 65 sunblock and goes to the tanning salon, because UV light is supposed to help. He goes to the conservatory, this trip for example, so that he can walk around rooms filled with plants, breathing in the moist plant-air. It occurs to him that all of his strategies for dealing with the winter involve movement, involves the verb “goes,” as if the danger, ultimately, is staying in any one place too long.) (What does any story deal with other than death? Death is the fundamental logic of the narrative form. Any narrative, then, that focuses on the form of narrative itself is doubly concerned with death.) (I have always looked for fathers in strange places.) (This is why I disagree with the critique of metafiction, as a mode of writing, being sterile, lifeless, “too clever,” etc. If metafiction were simply writing concerned with writing, if it stopped there, then yes, such work would be a[n occasionally charming] waste of time. But the truth is that metafiction is always concerned, to one degree or another, with death. The best metafictionists face death with more courage and perspicuity than most any other writers that I can think of. Certainly I have never seen a conventionally-realistic treatment of death that seemed to get at the thing at all. You can describe a man or woman dying in the most perfect detail and not even begin to face the thing itself.) (It is not a thing.) (I am almost twenty-nine years old.)

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