The Narrative Withheld: Romance Erector
Narrative exposure in Diane Williams’ Romance Erector is a constant skirmish of the mind in the act of finding, finding a stranglehold on the ungraspable velocity of human temperament and memory in a textual existence void of the usual grounding elements. A narrator in bereavement of his or her senses, for the sexes are interchangeable. Rather than writhe and struggle against the curiously dislocated existence put forth by Williams, the narrator abandons themselves to the lack of temporality and spatiality: the author is the sole ruler of the textual universe and the harbinger of all literary formulae in the novella.
The abandonment is so utterly complete that it evinces a sexual malaise, most profoundly in the final novella, the consequence of an indubitable willing acquiesce to a vaguely hostile order defined by some persons other, the young man, his father Don Musgrave, and perhaps even Cora. Her erotic pleasure is left to the willingness of the young boy to participate, leaving her entirely at his command lest another erotic source be found willing.
She allows herself to be led by impulse, or rather, by the impetus of other parties. All the same she is resistant to group imperative, being propelled at high velocity by her own mind’s emotional needs and erotic desires. Yet she gains uncompromising impetus within a realm of unspecific and undetailed textuality: hardly any names of characters, names of places, cars, products, or environments are given up to locate the expectant reader, or even the narrator who is dislocated from the real, the truth, lost in a fog of fragmented recollections and fabricated illusory shadows of memory.
The meaning of events, dramatic or otherwise mere factual evidence, remains remarkably ambiguous. That even after the narrators’ questing ventures of discovery, they each appear, at story’s end, not much closer to the truth of things than when they started. Truth remains not only remarkably vexed but also remarkably elusive, yet the authorial voice is not one that begets truth or desires it; rather, the novella is a presentation of facts and events, conceptualized or not, and the mere contemplation of the narrator’s retelling of their trepidations as they see fit. The narrative voice disregards the reader’s demands and chronicles things as they see fit for their own benefit.
The narrator, even after she has amassed a bevy of facts regarding her recent lovers’ whereabouts that evening, and the many evenings that she sallies between her host’s abode and her work, still finds herself in an extraordinarily fractious relation to that which she repeatedly refers to as the truth of the matter, truth more akin to sense of need than to assessment or chronology. The relation to the truth is not in any way aided by the fact that she is not only mindful of her own inconstancy with regard to truth-telling, but also mindful of those surrounding her.
The fact that Williams wills the narrator to not tell the truth all the time, if in fact ever, makes the narrator not sure of her own truth at certain times, certain spaces. Both the reader and narrative voice must then work to figure out for themselves if what she is telling is the truth or not. Sometimes the difference is discernable, other times it is not: neither the narrator nor the reader know or are given reason to want to know, it simply is. The constant repetition of peripheral fact stated to the reader over and over may convince them that it is the truth because of the mere fact of it being unbelievable that a lie would be repeated so often.
At commencement the reader is taken in by the proximity of the facts, of so called truths, is taken in by the narrator’s trust in regards to certain things. But the confidence does not last long, and soon the narrator’s ambition is undercut not only by her acute sensitivity to the tentativeness of all truth claims, but also by her own conspiracies to fornicate; thusly, deviating from spatial and temporal investment in the story, an investment that leads her to tell the story not as conventional logic might have it, but as something more akin to that which an emotionally driven logic would dictate.
Memory always brings with it the sense of what might have been had one but chosen, in the past, to make, say, but one or two different decisions or commitments. The narrator attaches secondary and tertiary levels of possibility to each factual report. That is, each instance of fact seems to find itself inhabited by its ghostly alternative or alternatives, by the hypothetical realm of what might have been. The novella takes on the more deviant form of omission, the things left untold, rather than the things told.
Having lost faith that a chronological order can represent her own emotional investment in the material, she settles on an order both more imaginatively and emotionally conceived. She is propelled forward by need and satisfaction, not dragged forward by the passage of time or chronology and spatiality: giving rise to a reversal of the assumption that a prior event gives rise, or cause, to a latter event: for a latter event to be the maker of the former. It is memory which gives her momentum, but memory can play tricks; that there is a definitive proportion of imaginative invention in her cherished portrait of the narrative is indubitable.
For the narrator, the past is never a simple thing; rather, it always shadows forth its ghostly others, those silent footfalls that echo in one’s memories and are approached via the imagination. Thus, the reader encounters a novel seemingly inhabited by another novel, the novel that was not written, but that nevertheless resides within the interstitial gaps of the present narrative. The narrator, anxious that she is perhaps relating the wrong narrative, everything surrounding the story, everything that she is leaving out of it, would make another story, or even several others, quite different in character from the one contained within this one. She finds that she is not sure which are the important parts of the story and which she should leave out.
The reader is used to the given narrative version that has been created from the narrator’s own memory and the multiplicity of snapshot that comes along with it. If gazed upon in a clearer picture or, even worse, several pictures from different angles, perspectives, different lights, temperaments, remembrances, the reader would be forced to become accustomed to an entirely alternate and new facet of understanding. If the narrator is truly the participant in the creation of the past, the worry than stands is that they very well may be contributing to the erasure of the narrative: through absence of recollection; either unfulfilled, or entirely fervent overexposure to desire; denouncement or mere apathy in regards to temporality or chronology.
The narrator is quite conscious that she has acted not only badly but also unethically in her retelling, and that she stands in danger of losing her readers’ sympathies unless she can convince them that the circumstances were somehow extenuating, thus engaging in constant reinterpretation. After all, the narrator feels herself defeated as much by the distance of age between her lovers as by her desires. The novella must then begin where it will also end, with the love affair of the narrator with the young man and his father. The final, “Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.” acts as an acquiescence of an ending, the only appeasement bestowed upon the reader.
After all, Romance Erector, with its full-fledged effort to understand the past, is itself nothing less than a continuation of the story, a bringing it forward into the present and, an existence before it’s allotted time, the future. This is something that the narrator, as the novella’s last sentence suggests, might readily admit: that since all along there had been too many ends to the story, and since they did not end anything, but only continued something, something not formed into any story, the need arose of an act of ceremony to end the story.