Some notes on Laurie Sheck's 'A Monster's Notes.'
Karloff as Frankenstein's creation. -- PHOTOGRAPHER: Universal Studios (Universal Studios / April 27, 2004)
A preparation for something else, or a work in progress.
It means I know this is less than perfect. It means the piecemeal composition is acknowledged, should be applauded.
"And to my horror (for I had read the books which now all but crowded us out of the apartment) I discovered I knew nothing whatever about the grueling, mundane business of making form out of fragments." -- Frederick Exley, "A Fan's Notes"
"Form connotes and carries with it expectation." -- Ander Monson, "Fragments: On Dentistry"
It means this is less than perfect, and hence more real. The crude shape a virtue. The rough edges. Texture over all.
In Laurie Sheck's novel, "A Monster's Notes" (Alfred A. Knopf: 544 pp., $28), Victor Frankenstein's creation is alive and well and living in New York.
Mary Shelley's creation has come unstuck in time. He lives in New York or did until recently. He passes Tower Records, a Duane Reade drugstore. He takes notes on the news, developments in science. He reads abandoned books, is privy to whole correspondences, is a historian of his own loneliness.
The novel's first part is "Ice Diary"; the second is "Dream of the Red Chamber"; the last is "Metropolis/The Ruins at Luna." But the best parts of the book are in the "notes" -- lyric essays on time, space, leprosy, art. On Albertus Magnus, on John Cage. The sinews of this odd and unwieldy creature.
"I didn't seek to find her," Sheck writes in her preface, "wandered instead within and among her fragments of language -- notebooks, drafts, journals, fictions, letters, essays, and found there whole worlds spinning like planets, lived in their cold light and burnings light, wondering where I was, where they might take me. Curious, I heard a monster's voice, and out of some sharp need I followed."
Mary Shelley's stepsister Claire's letters, invented, real. Hesitant, aborted:
"So even liberty is a prison xxxxxxx and xxxx"
Much in that manner.
Writing is revision, or a kind of madness. Claire's cross-outs (xxx) resemble the stitches on the monster -- they are words left suspended in the air of the page.
When does a poet (Sheck is one) become a novelist? Sensationally great novels by poets: James Lasdun, "The Horned Man"; Robert Kelly, "The Scorpions"; John Ashbery and James Schuyler, "A Nest of Ninnies"
Ashbery and Schuyler trading off lines initially.
"On the first notebook's pages," Sheck writes in the preface, "she penciled in a left-hand margin, and there Percy Shelley left his comments and marks. Picture two hands moving side by side, she writing 'creature,' he (in some impulse of tenderness, kindness?) crossing it out, replacing it with 'being.'
Reading "Frankenstein" afresh: I see it as a commentary on (and twisted how-to kit for) the novel, that magpie form. A restlessness of form. A series of letters by an Arctic-bound explorer to his sister gets taken over by Victor Frankenstein's life story (a tangled affair in itself), which dissolves the artifice of correspondence for most of the book. And, at one point, Frankenstein's narration gets dominated by a soon-to-be one-sided dialogue with his creation.