Two Voices

There is a lot of personal experience woven into my novel, Night Navigation, but from the moment I started writing it, I worked to find a way to make the leap into “real” fiction; I did not want this to be “my story.” I wanted it to be the story of what was left of a family — an adult man, Mark Merrick, and Del, his mother — after the suicide of Mark’s father and brother.

The main way I chose to create a novel, rather than autobiography, was to move back and forth between the two voices of son and mother. By working in the point of view of a manic-depressive 37-seven year old man who was addicted to heroin, I was able to enter places I could never have gone if I had chosen to work in the “I” of memoir or spoken only in the voice of Del Merrick.

Also, strangely enough, Mark, the mostly imagined character, was much easier to create, while Del, who was a lot like me, tended to go on and on with all the back story she thought essential, but which really just bogged things down.

Here’s an example of how differently each of these characters spoke to me when I sat alone and worked on reinventing their two worlds:The Alternating Voices of Night Navigation:

Del:  She turns the ringers off, turns down the answering machine. Drug dramas and manic depression: hard to know which roller coaster you’re riding.  At least twenty years that any call in the night registers ten on her adrenaline Richter. During what she thinks of as Tarbaby Time, say when he’s got another knot of infection swelling his arm that’s red-lining its way to his heart and she’s driving him to Emergency again, she wishes he’d just go ahead and kill himself and put them all out of their misery. Other times she’s sure this is the best place for him to be. His father’s, his brother’s ashes buried up on their hill.  They’re all here together: working on it.

Mark:  He dials the hospital numbers. He knows to get admitted all he has to do is tell the truth.  Yes, he’s got Medicare and Medicaid. He last used thirty minutes ago. Morphine. He prefers not to mention his pharmaceutical source. He’s been using since maybe he was thirteen: LSD, marijuana. Lots of LSD. Heroin? Off and on since he was in his late twenties. He’s dual diagnosis. Bipolar disorder.  Onset probably about thirteen. Though all was not well long before that, he’s sure. The hospital switches him to Gregorian chants. Then an all-business woman is back in his ear. He’s on the waiting list.