March 16, 2011

The Novel, At Last

Dear Friends:

Destiny is finally available on Amazon (plug in "morris berman destiny" and it'll come up on the screen). It's been a long haul, starting nearly four years ago in a little cottage in Turkey, on the Aegean coast. And while it ain't Tolstoy, it is, I think, an enjoyable read, and I'm quite happy with the result.

Some background, then (normally I don't give people the gory details, but since I'm mostly talking to the DAA55 here, I guess I will). The theme--Is it possible to change one's destiny as an act of will?--is one that's been with me for decades now. I've been particularly fascinated by movies that involve the protagonist going back in time, say 20 years or so, and trying to "fix" something in the past so that the present will turn out differently. Anyway, I was visiting some Turkish friends in 2007, not far from Izmir, and staying in a cottage 20 feet from the Aegean sea. I was mindlessly writing in my journal one day, and then suddenly, without a word of warning, began to write the first novella, which is the major part of the book. I don't know where this came from; it just sort of fell out. Most of it got written over the next 9 days, and then the rest of the book was completed within the next 2-3 months.

I subsequently showed it to my agent at the time, who was bowled over. Indeed, she compared the stories to those of J.M. Coetzee, who won the Nobel for lit. in
2003. "This has a real page-turning quality," she told me; "I think I can sell it." I told her I was encouraged by all this, although I would hold off on writing my Nobel acceptance speech just for the present moment ("I stand before you today humbled by this honor you have chosen to bestow on me," etc.). Which proved to be a wise decision. Soon after this, my former agent had something of a career crisis, deciding she wanted to do other things instead of agenting, and more or less left the field. I was without an agent for about 2-3 years, during which time I sent a synopsis of the book (see below) to a number of publishers. None of them asked to see the manuscript as a result; they basically felt they could not make a commercial success of it, which I think was probably a correct assessment. In fact, my present agent read it and told me it was "too quiet" for an American audience--again, a correct evaluation, since it involves inner process, or existential psychology, and that is pretty foreign to the American psyche. So after about a year of getting nowhere, I decided to take the route I did with A Question of Values, my essay collection, and self-publish it on Amazon. My guess is that about 50 people will read it (well, maybe 35; you guys all know how prone I am to exaggeration), but this is another case of the activity being the reward. I can't toss off fiction in the same way I can nonfiction, and it took me several drafts to get it "right." At the end of the day, however, it feels like it was worth it. I'm hoping y'all will enjoy it, in any case.

As of this moment, only a picture of the book is posted on Amazon, but eventually, they are going to put the following text online as well: the synopsis of the book. As follows:

Who among us has never wondered whether our lives could be completely different? What exactly would we change, if we could? From the poetry of Robert Frost to the blockbuster cinema of Back to the Future, the notion of “what if?” holds an almost obsessive fascination over us. Are we shaped by fate, or by conscious choice?

Destiny is a series of three interrelated novellas that revolve around a single theme: Is it possible, as an act of will, for an individual to change what appears to be his or her fate? Can one deliberately modify the ingrained patterns of one’s life, and thereby alter its course? In the case of each of these tales, the central character undertakes to do this, and in each case the outcome is radically different.

The path of the protagonist of the first story, “La Vita Nuova,” is an occult one, involving meditation, parallel universes, time travel, and a training in Sufi out-of-body experiences. Jason Green, a rather timid librarian in New York City, finally gets the life he thought he wanted, but it comes with a catch, one he cannot seem to resolve.

In the second story, “The Observer,” Irene Davis is a talented artist who has spent her life keeping everyone at a distance. She wakes up on her fortieth birthday to discover that she is single, friendless, and devoid of any real meaning in her life. In the course of working with a therapist she begins to explore the possibilities for turning this around.

The final story, “The Seven Deadly Sins,” revolves around the life of a high school social science teacher, George Crystal, who unexpectedly writes a best seller and subsequently retires to a small village in England. From this vantage point, he decides to “purify” his life by working through the Seven Deadly Sins–Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, and Lust–one by one. After some initial success, the project starts to go awry, and then takes an unexpected turn when George falls in love with another American expatriate.

The fact that there are three separate, and fundamentally different, answers to the central question of the book finally lends it a philosophical or existential dimension, one that propels the reader to reflect on his or her own destiny, and what the possibilities are for having the life we really want.