Neil Remington Abramson has started a novel about the life of his father, William Walter Remington, murdered in prison at the age of 37, when Neil was barely a year old. Neil has reflected on his father’s circumstances on a number of occasions, including here, here, here and here.
The writing is not going as well as expected, as Neil recounts (reproduced with permission):
I was thinking that perhaps I should let him go. Perhaps he best deserves to be allowed to slip away, unnoticed, into the dustbin of history. Doing all the research to write the story, I have come to certain conclusions about him. And my understanding of the “complete” story includes aspects of surmise that seem inevitably likely, but not part of any official record.
Maybe I should be writing it with a different perspective: mine, for example, instead of his. Or maybe what I am writing would be one chapter in a bigger story of a man (me) finding his father and who he really was.
Or maybe it should be a detective story set in 1950 USA rather like those Bernie Gunther stories set in Nazi Germany. My detective could be employed by my hot-shot mother to try to prove his innocence but then, Raymond Chandler-like, the hired detective proves my father’s his guilt instead.
But then again, it’s my father’s guilt that, in some respects, rehabilitates the meaning of the story for me. If I were the detective and found what I suspect I would find, then would I run to the FBI or would I let it go, out of greater respect and sensitivity for WWR? And that’s the joy of reading Chandler: his detective is not chained to society’s expectations of normative behavior.
But I was thinking that if I just let WWR go, then what would I write instead? I know the answer and have known it for some time. I even know the plot line and setting because it’s been coming to me for years, already. But it would be an entirely different genre.
Sounds confusing, doesn’t it? Do I have an authentic obligation to myself or WWR to pursue his story? And what if my story about his story blackens him further, in unanticipated ways, at least by others?
It is the betrayal that represents existential authenticity, and the subsequent camouflage, trying to prove that it was never the case, that then becomes the self-betrayal slipping back into self-interest, from authenticity to inauthenticity, denying the validity of the choices made freely. Simply put, my father could be seen as a man of bad faith.
If I can write this novel, the trick is to find ways to bring my father’s character to fruition through the development of the plot, rather than the naming of theories and the argumentation of their application in the case. It’s a difficult transition between scientific writing and literature, as Soseki observes.
Maybe I should be sticking with the autobiographical, though instead of trying to compress the story into a short story (20,000 words max), maybe I should make it more introspective and allow the character to emerge from the considerations he makes, and those that surround him, trying to understand how he is finally facing prison. A bit like Augustine’s Confessions. but without the constant prayers and appeals to God.
I can see why it takes 3 years to write a novel. I may not be up to one yet. I like the detective novel scenario. It would be easier for me to be the protagonist detective, uncovering the apparent truth about my father, rather than trying to understand what WWR might really have thought of his past, his present, and himself, with no future.