• Alan Bray

A Manifesto, then Casey

All right, sit down everybody. I’m going to continue talking about “Starting Out in the Evening,” but first I have a few (other) thoughts I’d like to share. What am I doing here with this blog? I’m enjoying writing it very much and hope it’s of interest to others. But what’s it about? What’s the point?

My project is to write about novels from a writer’s perspective. I’m interested in a novel’s structure, how the story is told—the narrator’s role. I‘m interested in characters—how they’re developed, how they drive the story along. And I’m interested in the style of the book, the almost hidden signs that make a book like “Starting Out in the Evening” different from, say, “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

I’m selecting novels that I’ve read at least once before, and I read them again while I’m writing the blog. The posts are a leaky sieve of spoilers—so beware. Although I love books like “Anna Karenina” and “Far From the Madding Crowd,” I won’t be writing about them because so much has already been done. I will write about books that I love, and my purpose is not to be negative. I would not be comfortable writing about a book I didn’t like and criticizing it—for me—a waste of time.

There—a manifesto. Now, on to today’s business.

An interesting thing happens halfway into “Starting Out in the Evening,” a new character is introduced, a character with his own consciousness—Ariel’s old love, Casey Davis. My experience of this as a reader is that it’s jarring—you’re used to the stories of Schiller, Heather, and Ariel, and it’s a stretch to get used to someone new when you feel like you’ve already “got” the story. (And that’s a whole phenomenon in its own right—what’s needed for the reader to feel like she/he understands a story before finishing it). It’s interesting that Morse waits to introduce him—I think it’s fair to say that the common wisdom about novel writing is that the author should present the main characters at the beginning of things. But Morse is an accomplished writer, and I have to think Casey’s late appearance “on-stage” is no accident or error. He and Ariel finish the story; they have the final scene.

He is what Ariel has been missing. In the first half, she searches for a mate, a man she can love but keeps meeting the wrong guys. And her father is dying. Then just when she’s despairing, Casey appears outside a restaurant window, and Ariel gets up from the date she’s on to join him. This impulsiveness is a quality the book’s characters often exhibit (except for Casey) and this is something we’ll have to examine later. When the switch is made to Casey’s point-of-view, he himself is shown as experiencing Ariel as someone who seems to materialize at uncanny moments—just when he needs her. “She had a way of appearing before your eyes a few minutes after you’d been thinking of her.”

Casey is different from the other three. He’s more aware of himself, more adult, more reflective about his actions. He has a tendency to think/reflect in terms of “imperfect” time—the above quote is a good example—Ariel “had a way.” It doesn’t refer to a discreet event in the past or present but an on-going process.

What is missing for him? Much like Ariel, he has been feeling the lack of a mate. He has a teenage son from a previous relationship (and I have to say the son makes an odd appearance in one chapter) and doesn’t want to have more children, a source of conflict between he and Ariel. Of course, this conflict and Casey’s ruminations about it serve to make the reader more aware of the issue—whether he wants it or not, a new child, a child with Ariel is missing for Casey. And at the end, it appears that they will get to work on making one together—although it’s not definitive. The ending is left open to interpretation. (not if you’re a romantic).

Later on, I want to discuss how the characters in “Starting Out in the Evening” present reflections to each other that are transformative. I think this phenomenon occurs less to Casey; he transforms, but the transformation seems more inward-driven than it does for the others. He is a harsh critic of the others. He believes Ariel is too attached to her father, who is “a loser” who’s squandered his life writing “what—maybe three books?” Casey tried to read one of Schiller’s books and found it “lightweight.” ”Four people bothering each other.” (And this is very funny because the description could also be applied to “Starting Out.”) He meets Heather briefly, finds her attractive but fleetingly. He doesn’t get why she’d be interested in Schiller.

My theory is that Casey is closer to the narrator who tells the story. He is more the calm center of a story about three rather obsessive and impulsive people whom he observes. They fascinate and repel him. The others are too wrapped up in themselves to take much notice of each other. Perhaps, Casey doesn’t really like being a character in this novel. But he loves Ariel, and there’s some beautiful, lyric writing about what it’s like to fall in love with someone, to be entranced by their simplest gesture..

Next week—more about how the characters reflect (they’re not shiny, No).