A few months back, I mentioned a boy, some caviar and charcuterie, and a walk-in cooler, and how I was going to spend the next year figuring out how these things connect. Well, the writing proceeds apace. I still don’t know what this young black man and his expensive fish have to do with anything I’m working with right now, which includes: a long-lost subway map; three teenage girls on an impromptu adventure to an island off the western coast of Africa; a legendary cartoonist; and a DJ spinning platters deep into the night.
But I like it so far.
For what it’s worth, a guiding force of the book has been Afropop music by a variety of artists—King Sunny Ade, Youssou N’Dour, Orchestra Baobab, Fela Kuti. It’s what I’ve been listening to as I type. (Though I note David Markson’s warning, when asked about the speed with which Jack Kerouac worked: “That’s not writing; that’s typing.”) The music’s beginning to seep into the novel. What I like about the music is that it slow-burns. Within the music, distinct signposts—choruses, bridges, separate movements—often fail to emerge. Solos are notable mostly by their absence. Because I don’t usually understand what’s being sung, the voices are just other instruments in the mix rather than the point around which the rest of the song coalesces. The instrumentation is insistent but gentle—there are lots of drums but no pounding drumwork—and the players tend to nudge you along rather than dragging you.
The music is not, however, mere wallpaper. Songs build gradually in intensity and it’s almost always danceable. Musicians step into or subtract themselves from the mix, almost imperceptibly—a lilting guitar line here, a sinuous sax there, percussion everywhere. As with swing or free jazz, Afropop feels as if everyone’s soloing at once, but with subtlety and with internal cohesion. The line between background and foreground gets blurred frequently.
In a minor way, that’s the way the book is progressing. There are lots of digressions, stray details that I hope build up to deft characterizations and apt settings, and a plotline through which the events move fluidly and casually. We’ll see.
Anyway, I’m working, slowly but productively. It feels good. As a result, the blog’s abbreviated posting schedule will remain in place until further notice.