I recently decided to write a book.

“You told us already,” Charity says, sipping her red-coloured cola.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Not that it matters,” Ray says.  “Josh, sometimes I feel like you say things to us when you’re really only talking to yourself.”

“Really?”  I sigh.  “I hate when people do that.”

The setting of this conversation is your average restaurant.  The four of us– Ray, Charity, Jordan, and I– share a booth near a window, each sipping a different colour pop.  The backdrop is the city of Vancouver, probably in the summer, probably on a mutual day off.

“That’s good,” says Jordan.  “That you’re writing a book.  Often I feel like dialogue with you is very literate…or literary.  You know.”

“Are we still talking about this?” Ray groans.

“I decided to name my second child Eternity,” says Charity.  The randomness of her mind keeps conversation alive and changing the subject rarely awkward.

Me: “That’s not a name.  It’s an abstract concept.”

Jordan: “I like it.”

Ray: “Me too.”

Charity’s brain is filled with lightning.  “You know what you rarely see in books?”

“See?” I say.  “You mean read?”

Charity continues, “Gender neutral characters.  If someone is given a gender neutral name, like Taylor, or–”

“Jordan,” Ray smiles.  Jordan kicks Ray from under the table.

Charity chuckles.  “–or Sam, or Casey… the writer will eventually use the proper pronoun to eliminate confusion.  You should have a gender neutral character in your book, Josh.  For the fun of it.”

Jordan kicks Ray again.

What?” Ray nearly shouts.  “I didn’t even say anything.”

I sip the last of my orange pop.  “Maybe I will.  Maybe it will be Jordan.”  I quickly pick my legs up from under the table before she can kick me too.

“Just don’t repeat words,” Ray says.  “I hate that.”

•     •     •

“What do you think?” I ask.

We’re hanging out at Ben’s parents’ house, mostly because they have food and cable.  Ben is holding the few pages of printer paper that make up my book so far.

“Not bad,” says Ben.  “You’ve established primary characters in a short time.  Commendable.  How come I’m not in it?”

“Come on.  It’s loosely based on our friends.”

“Sure.  So what’s it about?”

“I haven’t really decided yet.”

“You and I are very different people, Josh.  I would have it storyboarded and drawn up in comic book format.  Hey!”

“Yeah?”

“You should write the anti-book!”

“What?  Like the unbook?”

“You could literally break any rule you want.”

I think for a second.

“The Bizarro book.  Call it, ‘The Literary Doppelgänger’.”

“You’ve lost me.”

“Look, Josh.  Just don’t repeat stuff, ok?  That’s the worst.  And use lots of irony.  People love that.”

•     •     •

The next day we decide to go for a drive on the hunt for the premise of the UnBook.  Ben’s girlfriend, Katie, comes with us.  I drive.

“Where should we go?” I asked earlier that day.

“You can’t go east,” Katie said.  “There’s nothing to see.”

“Don’t go north,” Ben added.  “Trees and mountains are boring.  You need people or culture of some sort.”

“I literally can’t go west, so south it is.  To the U.S. of A!”  I think some Americans refer to the States as the “U.S. of A.”  I just find it funny.  No one laughed.

Things are different once we cross the border.  Katie is from Oak Harbor, Washington, going to College in B.C., so she keeps implying to Ben that she wants to visit home.  This makes them both quieter, so I turn up the music.

We stop at a gas station and Katie goes inside to buy weird American candy, a delicacy now that she lives in Canada.

“Ben,” I say.  “It’s totally okay if Katie wants to go to Oak Harbor for a few hours.  We could drop her off and explore.  Maybe go cliff-jumping?  There’s enough to do around town, right?”

“I suppose.  I just didn’t want to ruin your hunt for inspiration.”

“Nah.  Maybe it’ll be good.”

“Thanks, man.  She’s pinched my arm like five times from the backseat because I never said anything.  I hate that.”

Katie is suddenly in a better mood when I ask her if she wants to stop off in Oak Harbor.

“That means you guys too, right?  Ben?” Katie asks.

Ben was silent.  A moment later he yelps in pain and pulls his arm in front of him.  “Don’t do that!”

“My parents really want to meet you.”

I turn my head.  “They haven’t met you?”

So I spend three hours alone in Oak Harbor, searching for the premise.  Katie’s parents insist I come in for lunch, but I am determined.  Oak Harbor has houses, trees, water.  It’s as exciting as any other town with no life to disturb or no death to probe.  I drive to Dugualla Bay and sit on the roof of my car, staring out at the Pacific Ocean.

Just about when I begin to lose track of time, some kids drive up and park off the side of the road.  There are two girls, both unmistakably attractive, and one boy, visibly the boyfriend of one of the girls.  Without even a glance in my direction, they get out of the car, strip down to their bathing suits, put their running shoes on, and disappear in the trees towards the water.  I keep wishing that the single girl would come back up and notice me.  She would take a seat on the roof of my car and tell me that the two others wanted to jump cliffs that were too high for her, and we would laugh at how cliché the whole situation was.  I would tell her about my book and she would give me a brilliant suggestion– bleak, yet ironic.

I jump off the car and head to pick the others up.

•     •     •

Katie remains generally silent on the remainder of our venture, apart from some commentary while shopping for more America-specific products.  Somewhere, the discussion turns back to the UnBook.  We discuss every type of literary rule that can be broken.

“Setting?” Ben says.

“That’s tough,” I determine.  “Fiction or nonfiction.  I can’t break any rule that hasn’t already been broken.”

“Unless you have no setting.  Or it takes place in subspace.”

“Interesting.  Or setting could be another character, like Gotham City.”

“Good.  Characters?” Ben asks.

“Hmm,” I reply.  “Dynamic, static, round, flat.  Originality is sparse.”

“Unless we tap into relationships.”

I pause.  “Like the writer-reader relationship?”

“Or… writer-character relationship.”

I am silent.  We descend into subspace.

“You’re already the main character,” Ben reminds me.  “What does that mean for the other characters?”

“Josh,” Katie says.  “Are you interacting with them right now?”

“Who?” I say.

“The characters.  Names changed for whatever reason.  You know what I mean.”

Ben says, “I doubt it.  It wouldn’t make for much of a story.”

I laugh.  “I’m not sure if that’s an insult to me or to you guys.”

Subspace is violated as we pull up to the border.

•     •     •

I tried calling Ben a few days later and got his voicemail.  Ray called me and said he was heading over to Ben’s.

“It’s Katie,” Ray said, with little expression at all.

I knew that could only mean the obvious.

I get in the car and drive to Ben’s.

Ben is sitting at the foot of his bed, reading a magazine.  There are a few cans of caviar on the table beside him, one open with a spoon sticking out of it.  Ray is sitting at Ben’s computer, emailing or something.  Ray probably already talked Ben down.  Or Ben was already fine.  The atmosphere is unclear.  I think of what to say next–

Ben speaks without looking up: “Hey, Josh.”

“Hey guys.  Is that caviar?”

“I impulsively decided to try it when Katie broke up with me.  Turns out it’s actually not good at all.”

Ray says, “I’m almost done.  Then let’s get drinks.”

Ben continues reading.  Ray is typing.

Something is happening.  There is a problem with no need for resolution.  The characters had grown past the problem and it had been resolved on its own.  I am one of those characters, and I am apparently inconsequential.

“Josh,” Ben says.  “Please don’t put me in your story.”

“Huh?”

“Since you’ve been writing, things haven’t been good.  I’m asking you.  Don’t put me in your story.”

“Ok.  I won’t.”

•     •     •

“I know it’s kind of a crappy day, but I thought I should tell you guys soon.”  Ray takes a sip of his beer.  “I’m going to Japan.”

“Again?” Ben asks.

“I’m going to live there.  In June.  I received a job offer.”

“Wow.  That’s good, right?”

“Yeah.  It’s great.  I’m going to be sales manager for some international computer company.  It pays really well, so I’m hoping by December I’ll have saved up the down payment for a house.”

“You’re going to own a house?”

Ray nods.

After a moment to think about each of our own futures, Ben looks at me.  “How’s the book coming?”

“Pretty good, I suppose.  I feel like it keeps falling apart on me.  The characters lack integrity.”

“Towards themselves?” Ben asks.

“I’m not really sure what I mean by that.  Towards the book, perhaps.”

“Towards you, probably,” Ray adds impertinently.

“What?”

Ray looks at me intensely.  “Josh.  Real things are happening.  Look at your friends.  We’re not characters in some stupid book.  Ben doesn’t want to be in your book.”

“I’m sorry you’re offended.  What’s the big deal?”

“You’re turning people into words, Josh.  You don’t exist outside of your friends.  And you don’t exist outside of words.  You are words.”

•     •     •

“That’s really exciting!” Jordan said.  “Are you going to marry some cute Japanese girl?”

“If things go according to plan,” Ray laughed.

“So there’s a plan?”

“Have you guys seen ‘King Kong vs. Godzilla’?” Charity asked.  “We watched it in Film History class.  I think it’s Japanese, but I could be wrong.”

Ray, Ben, Charity, and Jordan decided to go for lunch at the 50’s diner in Maple Ridge.  They sat near the jukebox at the largest table they could find.  It’s May 17th, one month before Ray leaves for Japan.  Today, Ray told Charity and Jordan he was leaving.

Charity: “What if some species had a third gender, and you needed all three to reproduce?”

Ray: “I’m really glad you’re not running the universe, Charity.”

Ben: “I’m not sure if you’re brilliant or psychotic.”

Charity raised an eyebrow.  “That’s so endearing,” she replied cynically.

Jordan raised her large plastic cup of Coke.  “To Japan.”

Copyright (c) 2009 Joshua Nichol.  All rights reserved.
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2 Responses to “The UnBook”

  1. Jess said

    I liked it. I read your comment about people possibly not knowing/understanding what happened at the end. So I am not sure if I am trying to find more than there is… so what did you mean by that?

    • Joshua said

      Thanks so much for reading this story. Essentially, there is the basic narrative of what happens. But at the same time there is the actual struggle of the main character (who represents me) trying to write this story, the UnBook, which you read as he writes. The realization that the author has towards the end is that there is a story happening outside of himself, while the other characters end up losing interest in their author. So the author is not in the last scene as a character, but outside of the story (as the writer). There is also more attention to detail in the narrative of the last scene (vs. the first scene, for example), because the author has finally taken his rightful place. Some of these details are more subtle than others, so I’m glad you still enjoyed the story. Sorry if I ended up making it confusing. I don’t always write on such absurd levels, but I can become narcissistic in my absurdity. Thanks again for reading.

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