It’s not often that a writer gets to hear a story of his read in front of an audience by an accomplished actor. I had that pleasure in 1999 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass. when Arliss Howard gave a staged reading of “The 5:22” before about 400 people. What surprised me that evening was the laughter at the small bits of irony or archness in the observations of my main character, a staid MIT professor. Howard managed to amplify everything I wrote, and group reaction dynamics took over.
It has been about 20 years since I wrote “The 5:22,” and now comes a new reading by actor LeVar Burton, part of his popular LeVar Burton Reads podcast. It is available free at http://www.levarburtonpodcast.com/. His smooth delivery gives new life to my words. I hope you enjoy it.
A review by Carol Iaciofano in ARTery, the web site of WBUR radio Boston (http://artery.wbur.org/2013/06/17/george-harrar-reunion), said, “Reunion at Red Paint Bay” explores some weighty questions: How much can memories be trusted? How long a comet tail of consequences can one act spark?” I like that image of a comet speeding through the universe, leaving traces of itself behind. If we’re the comet, blazing heedlessly through other people’s lives, we can certainly be held responsible for the havoc we cause. But for how long? Is there a statute of limitations on responsibility, or does one thoughtless action bind us forever to the future lives of those we have affected?
Royal Young from Interview Magazine asked me about the secret that my main character, Simon, keeps hidden over 25 years, even from his wife, in “Reunion at Red Paint Bay.” To me a secret is something that you purposely hide from people because you feel ashamed about it or you are afraid of the consequences of revealing it. But Simon says he has barely thought of the event that precipitates the action in the book or the girl involved. What seems like a secret to his wife isn’t to him because it never rose high enough in his consciousness for him to have to suppress it. Here’s the link to the interview:
One of the most popular types of fiction is the “true” or “based on” story. There’s the natural inclination on the part of the reader to give more weight to the plight of characters who supposedly, actually, really did go through the events described. Reunion at Red Paint Bay took shape in my imagination after a friend told me of receiving an anonymous letter in the mail inviting him to dinner at a restaurant as repayment for something he had done as a youngster. It turned out well for him–a kindness from 35 years before being repaid. But “repayment” can mean retribution or revenge, and that’s the story line I chose to follow. A comment from Jules Feiffer seems to apply: “Nothing in the book ever happened and everything in the book is true.”
Writing is one of those delayed gratification professions where it can be a year or more from the completion of the work till its incarnation in print. Then the reviews, the reader comments, the bookstore appearances come in a rush. Here’s the link to an interview where I get to step back and think about Reunion at Red Paint Bay in the context of my other novels and short stories: http://artsfuse.org/76163/fuse-interview-suspense-stories-with-a-twist-writer-george-harrar/
Whenever someone hears that I have a new novel coming out, the natural first question is “What’s it about?” For Reunion at Red Paint Bay I say it’s the story of a newspaper editor in Maine and his family who are engaged in a full-scale psychological battle with a stalker without even knowing it. Is it a mystery, a thriller, a suspense novel? Labels like this are tricky because they set up certain expectations in the reader’s mind. A standard mystery requires a crime, a prime suspect or two, a dogged detective and a definitive outcome. A thriller requires, well, thrills. A suspense novel has as its main goal keeping the reader on edge, worried about the fate of the main character. Reunion at Red Paint Bay has elements of each genre but is clearly not any of them. I’d prefer, in fact, that someone pick up my novel with no more preconception than that it is a good read.
“The 5:22” is the first of my stories to be adapted for the screen. Chicago filmmaker Bernadette Demisay made a beautiful short film of about 22 minutes that played the festival circuit in 2006 and 2007. I talk about how it is for a writer to see his words come alive on the screen in an interview with Spoiler Alert Radio (http://www.podcast.com/TV-and-Film/I-205199.htm) in Providence, Rhode Island. One surprise: the filmmaker found symbolism where I hadn’t consciously intended it—such as when my main character presses his ear to the tracks to hear if a train is coming. (You can read “The 5:22” to see what I mean).
What is “noir” in fiction? Makes me think of Garrison Keillor’s private eye Guy Noir. But apparently the answer is very broad, given the scope of stories in “Boston Noir 2: The Classics” (Akashic Books). Authors include David Foster Wallace, Joyce Carol Oates, Andre Dubus and others (the group that includes me). My story “The 5:22,” which I wrote in 1999 and was chosen for Best American Short Stories that year, was picked for its Twilight Zone feel. In reviewing the anthology the Boston Globe described “The 5:22” as “like a ghost story…with a delightful twist.” That’s a take on it I hadn’t heard before.