Talking in Bed
Author: Antonya Nelson
Book Review by: Sharon Quiroz
As I write this I´m at the Bear River Writing Conference doing a workshop with Antonya Nelson. I loved this novel, and I´m thrilled with the workshop.
One blurb for Talking in Bed characterizes it as "a meditation on marriage.¨ It´s a pretty specific marriage, but it´s interesting that when Nelson referred briefly to the inception of the novel in our workshop she talked about the two male characters who start from very different places in the world. One is a psychologist, the other is a laborer. She said she wanted to work with two characters who had no connection, and have them tunnel through to meet each other, and that they would eventually separate. Nelson says she just started with that, didn´t know where else it was going. The two men meet at the hospital where both fathers are dying. Well, for one thing, it explores the class differences through the friendship of the two men, and through the marriage and separation of the psychologist, and the marriage and separation of the laborer.
I was fascinated by the method of the novel. It is emotionally intense. There is a plot, but it is quite submerged. It´s as if the subtext is foregrounded and the plot is obscured. In the workshop Nelson contrasts ¨plot¨ and ¨escalation.¨ Or ¨plot¨and ¨shape.¨One might say that the contour of this novel is the escalation of feelings, rather than action. The reader gets a sense of progress through the novel by the complication and intensification of feelings. It is ¨shaped¨rather than ¨plotted.¨ Elsewhere in this website I have talked about my sense that some of the European novels use a very different method than I am used to. As soon as I read Nelson I saw that she writes more like those Europeans, at least in this novel, and in her collection of short stories, Nothing Right. These novels aren´t linear, not driven by cause and effect. They take up emotional, social, political, cultural space. Instead of lengthening, they deepen. I´m excited to try this technique in my own work.
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