In “A Lot of Things Have Happened,” your story in this week’s issue, the narrator remembers an old girlfriend through a series of events and coincidences—her fear of palmetto bugs is recalled by way of the narrator’s new house in Florida; her congratulations to him and his new wife are recalled by way of parallel stories about rodents; her sister’s death is recalled by way of an apology the narrator once extorted from a student. In a story without a linear, driving narrative, how do you go about parsing out the inciting events?
The shortest, most honest answer here is: accidentally. The slightly fancier-sounding version of that answer is: through a process of trial and error.
For whatever reason, I’ve been drawn to ellipsis and anecdote lately and become more impatient with artful transition. Probably this is self-preserving. The number of ostensibly worthwhile notions that have rotted on the vine while I tried to figure out how to seamlessly move from one to the next was beginning to bum me out.
With this particular story, the first thing I did was write a handful of fictional, largely disconnected, first-person anecdotes as sparsely and impactfully and comically as I could, each one in the same voice. Once a certain number of these anecdotes accrued—a greater number, to be sure, than appear here, in “A Lot of Things Have Happened”—I began to notice some commonalities between the anecdotes (example: tools kept getting misused) and adjusted the volume on those commonalities so as to make the anecdotes more continuous with one another. In the course of doing that, I began to discover what the larger story wanted to be (or what I wanted it to be), I cut away the redundancies and distractions as best I could, and rearranged the order of the anecdotes till (hopefully) they fell into the sequence that best served the whole.
So what incited what, I guess, was secondary. Subject to where I wanted things to land.
The story begins and ends with social interactions between couples. Off the top of my head, I can think of tons of stories and novels that have that kind of energy at their center, yet almost none of them are from the past twenty years. What does inter-coupledom offer you, as a fiction writer?
Couples fascinate me in general. The well and mismatched both, but especially the well matched. And especially when they’re performing their coupledom for another couple. The rhythm they’ve mastered, or haven’t quite yet.
The number of social roles being negotiated by any member of a two-couple group who are sitting together on a porch and getting shit-faced is, by my count, ten. (Partner individuated; partner partnered; friend to other couple; friend to other couple’s partner No. 1; friend to other couple’s partner No. 2; drunk versions of all the aforementioned.) Ten! And I’m good at neither math nor drinking nor society, so it’s probably more than ten. It’s a lot, in any case. Almost seems impossible, negotiating all of those roles. Fun for me to think about.
The narrator owns a parrot, who knows some words. He says “Levin” as a kind of comforting equivalent of “Here we both are”; he says “Adam” when he wants the narrator to scratch him at the base of his skull. At the end of the story, having pulled a long feather out of a wing, he says, “Adam Levin.” At first I was totally confused by what this means, and then I came up with several theories, but I’d love to know at least one way you’re thinking about what it signifies.
“Several theories” is music to my ears. I have several, too. Beyond what it may or may not mean, though, I wanted the parrot’s utterance of the narrator’s full name, despite what each name signifies on its own, to feel to the reader—and so also, presumably, to the narrator—like an accusation.